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Solicitor struck off after ‘dishonest’ £29,000 transfers from clients

PUBLISHED: 16:56 03 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:45 04 August 2020

Great Yarmouth Magistrates' Court. PHOTO: Google Streetview

Great Yarmouth Magistrates' Court. PHOTO: Google Streetview

Archant

A Norfolk solicitor has been struck off after transferring more than £29,000 from clients’ bank accounts to keep his company within its overdraft limit.

Christopher Bentley was found to have acted dishonestly following a solicitor’s disciplinary tribunal held on Monday, August 3.

The 51-year-old, who did not attend the tribunal held on Zoom, transferred £29,345.20 from the bank accounts of four clients in six different transfers between April 2019 and April 2018, in attempts to keep his Great Yarmouth-based firm - Cole, Bentley and Co. - within their overdraft limit.

The company closed in September 2019 following a seven-month investigation from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which had been prompted by a complaint from the step-son of one of the clients.

The client, a serving prisoner at the time, had paid £15,000 to the firm for an appeal in July 2017, which was later abandoned in December of that year.

Inderjit Johal, representing the SRA, said: “In all four client matters, the firm acted in defence of criminal proceedings on behalf of privately-paying clients.

“At the time of the improper transfers, the firm’s office account was close to their overdraft limit of £25,000 and the money was used for his drawings, staff wages and office overheads.

“Without these improper transfers, the office current account would have exceeded the overdraft limit in each case, in some instances by several thousand pounds.

“We do not accept these transfers were errors or mistakes, but that it was a pattern of behaviour where he was transfering money to keep the account within the overdraft limit after exceeding it, or in anticipation of pending payments.”

During the investigation, Bentley claimed the transfers, which included £2,400, £8,040 and £4,000 from the client, as well as £2,905.20 from a second client, were “errors”.

Mr Johal said: “He claimed they were simply errors, saying he had transfered money to the office account to replace money he thought he had paid from that account in a cheque, when the cheques were in fact drawn from the client account.”

Bentley also transferred £6,000 from two more clients, which he claimed was “justified for costs owed to the firm,” although invoices for the transfers were only sent more than two months later.

He was ordered to pay costs of £18,794.12.


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