Given most of my clients were recidivists, I was fairly lucky about thefts from the office. Not as lucky as a south London solicitor friend who had an office full of original oils, one of which he placed on the wall just inside the front door, which opened on to the high street.
It was there for the taking, but no one did. Perhaps they simply did not recognise it. It was when a client of mine admired a picture of a racing pigeon in my office that I thought it sensible to move it.
Petty cash caused more trouble. I defended one man whose speciality was asking shopkeepers to get things from the top shelf and taking the cash in the till while they did so. I got him a suspended sentence and he brought me a couple of cigars, which he assured me he had paid for. He had quick fingers. The cash box vanished with him and my receptionist told me ‘this elderly man asked if I could look up an address for him’.
The only other time was when I had a number of clients one afternoon. I never knew which of them had taken not very much money but a large number of petty cash vouchers. When I next saw them, I told each client that I accepted he had nothing to do with the theft but that there would be a £5 levy on each to cover the inconvenience.
Amazingly, they all paid up like lambs.
More serious was when two young men were found in my office, where I had foolishly left my jacket. ‘We’re looking for work,’ one said, a phrase which in those days was code for ‘we’re nicking anything we can find’. Sure enough, the cash from my wallet was gone.
Fighting broke out and I captured one of them. As we sat and waited for the police, he conducted an auction. If I let him go I could have my cash back. The next bid was double my cash for the trouble. No? Then I could have half his takings from the day’s work. Finally, I could have it all.
The police were very keen on turning it into a robbery but in the end he pleaded guilty to theft and received probation. Rather to my annoyance, my money was kept as an exhibit until the case was over.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor