Tales of the unexpected

When most people think of a solicitor they relate them to trust and respect, which are integral when someone is choosing a professional to draft their will and manage their estate. Unfortunately this was not the case for those using solicitor Stephen Climo who was employed at Worcester-based firm Gaynor-Smith Owen (GSO).

Stephen Climo, 50, became a practising solicitor 15 years ago despite however, having previous convictions for fraud in 1994. He committed his latest offences towards some of his will writing and probate clients after allegedly falling into debt over works to his home, including building a conservatory and a third bedroom extension.

His defence also added that his client’s wife, a care assistant, had to take time off work through being unwell. His son had also become unwell and then his brother-in-law and mother-in-law both moved in to the family home, causing financial pressure to Climo.

Gaynor-Smith Owen, where Climo was head of the private client department, was expected to have lost up to £50,000 in turnover due to having to repay clients and for the amount of work needed to carry out an audit of his work.

In 2014, Edith Barefield paid Climo £180 for instructing her will. Copies of the statements were sent to the office but, the court heard, the funds were not paid into their solicitor’s account until May of this year.

Climo was also instructed to prepare a will on behalf of Doreen Nokes and invoiced her £180, but the money was not paid into the firm’s client account either. The court heard he eventually repaid £190 into the office account, which was around the time the firm’s cashier raised concerns over the payments.

The court heard he also dealt with Sheila Wardle, who was described as a lady with ‘opulent wealth’. An audit of her affairs was carried out and two cheques were found to have been made out to him; one in his hand-writing for £2,000 and one for £700. It was found he had paid them into his own bank account with no explanation.

Over a period of 4 years, Climo embezzled money from unsuspecting clients including that of a deceased lady during probate.

Prosecuting barrister, John Brotherton, told the court the 50-year-old committed the offences whilst employed by Malvern solicitors, Gaynor-Smith Owen.

Climo offered to take out a second charge on his home to make good the money he had taken. Too little too late?

The thefts only came to light when the firm’s cashier at Gaynor-Smith Owen raised concerns with the managing partner about transactions and missing monies. At around the same time Climo began taking unauthorised absences from work.

The court heard a statement from Edward Gaynor-Smith, Partner of Gaynor-Smith Owen, who said: “It has cost the firm more than £13,000 but I don’t regard this as the real loss, the real loss is to our reputation and standing in the community. I feel very betrayed and angry. I have had to face angry and upset clients; he abused the trust that was placed in him by GSO and our clients.”

Climo was jailed for defrauding and stealing from clients and sentenced to 20 months imprisonment. The judge told Climo that he would serve half his sentence in custody and spend the rest out on licence. Do you think his sentence was fitting for his crime?

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Today's Wills and Probate