Solicitor jailed for large scale fraud

Solicitor Simon Armitage (65) of Baydale, Clyst St George, Devon, a conveyancing and probate specialist has been jailed for four years following a large scale fraud.

A sole practitioner at the time, he fraudulently pocketed unsuspecting clients’ money over a period of four years between 2009 and 2013 and pilfered around £430,000 in total to pay his own tax bill.

Operating for a number of years from his sole practice which was above a bank in Devon, Armitage subsequently dissolved his firm in 2013 and merged with local firm Kitsons, where he was employed as a salaried partner.

The offences only came to light after a senior solicitor at Kitsons questioned Armitage about a case he was dealing with and why it was taking some time. Armitage then admitted to his colleague that he had stolen the money from his own clients but also added in his defence that he had planned to pay it back through the sale of his own property. Internal investigations then revealed the extent of the deception on files brought to the firm by Armitage.

Following the admission, Kitsons alerted Devon & Cornwall Police and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) who launched a full investigation. Within days, Kitsons dismissed him and were then left to deal with the fallout.

Armitage admitted nine counts of fraud and one of forgery between 2009 and 2013 when he appeared at Exeter Crown Court.

The court heard the deception started after many years of good reputable practice but that he had gotten into difficulties with tax bills. Armitage initially diverted funds thinking that his financial equity would cover it but he was unable to sell his house. In defence, Armitage stated the fraud grew bigger and bigger and escalated out of his control.

Sentencing, Judge Gilbert said the reputation of Armitage was now in tatters. He added: “You have admitted misappropriating the funds of 10 separate clients of your practice as a solicitor working mainly in probate and property. Initially you asserted it was between £150,000 and £200,000 but later admitted it was between £400,000 and £430,000.”

Jailing Armitage for four years, the judge added: “These are serious offences involving significant sums of money and your duty to clients.”

The court heard the affected clients had since been reimbursed by the Solicitors’ Indemnity Scheme and Armitage has been suspended as a solicitor, and declared bankruptcy.

Do you feel the sentence passed was appropriate given the scale of his fraud?

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