A young solicitor who received £36,000 in her bank account which had been stolen by her accountant partner has been struck off.
Naomi Jane Barnes was convicted in February 2016 at Harrow Crown court on one count of acquiring criminal property in the previous two years.
She was also convicted of transferring criminal property when she moved £8,000 into another account, knowing or suspecting it to be the proceeds of crime.
According to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal judgment, Barnes had been in a relationship with an unnamed in-house accountant who made unauthorised payments totalling nearly £300,000 into his own bank account. Between June 2014 and October of that year, a proportion of this was transferred to Barnes’ account.
The solicitor told her firm in October 2014 that she could not attend work due to a family emergency, then flew with her partner to Thailand, at about the time his offending came to light. They remained in East Asia until returning at the request of the police in May 2015.
Barnes, 28, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment, suspended for 12 months, with an unpaid work requirement for 200 hours and a rehabilitation activity requirement for a maximum of 10 days.
She told the tribunal the sentencing judge had referred to her culpability as being ‘at the lesser end’. She had pleaded not guilty to the charges on the basis that she was not aware the money placed in her account was from stolen funds.
She had joined her partner in Thailand as she was worried about his mental health and insisted she had ‘simply made a serious mistake in trusting someone she loved’.
The tribunal was satisfied that a person acting with integrity would not have allowed herself to become involved with acquiring or transferring criminal property. Her conduct, it was noted, ‘did not connote moral soundness or a steady adherence to an ethical code’.
Barnes, who qualified in 2012, gained employment in legal recruitment after returning to the UK and now runs her own recruitment company. The tribunal accepted she would not have found herself in this position if she had not entered into a relationship with the accountant, and noted this was a ‘sad case’ in light of her age and experience in the legal sector.
The judgment added: ‘There was a need to protect the public as well as the reputation of the legal profession and uphold professional standards.’
Barnes was struck off the roll and ordered to pay £2,000 in prosecution costs.