September 22 2014 Latest news:
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
A former director of a Norwich-based will, probate and inheritance services company was said to have breached the trust of customers by siphoning off nearly £1m, a court heard.
Peter Jones, 53, who was a director of Heritage Legal and Financial Ltd, on Hellesdon Park Road, Drayton High Road, stole the cash over a five-year period, some of which was meant to be given as bequests to charities, Norwich Crown Court heard.
Andrea Lock, prosecuting, said Jones was solely responsible for the probate side of the business. She said Jones abused his position of trust to take cash for himself from the deceased person’s estate and built-up his own portfolio of properties, as well as paying off some personal debts.
However his thefts were uncovered, when Jones was jailed for downloading indecent images of children, in 2012, and he was not in the office to cover his tracks.
Ms Lock said discrepancies were uncovered and when an audit was carried out, it was discovered nearly £1m was missing.
Jones, of Kings Arms Street, North Walsham, admitted two counts of theft between 2007 and 2012 and one count of fraud between 2007 and 2012.
The total amount of cash taken amounted to around £960,000.
The court heard that rather than fritter the cash away, Jones had invested the cash in property, which would mean that losers should be able to get their cash back.
Ms Lock said he had bought nine properties and said: “Significant funds are available to the court.”
She added that the will writing business was not subject to regulation, unlike if a will had been drawn up by a solicitor.
Jailing him for four years eight months, Judge Stephen Holt said: “A very large sum of money was siphoned off from your various clients.”
However he said that because he had not frittered the cash away, the losers might get the money back: ”I am told possibly that 100 per cent of all the money you stole will be repaid because of the property portfolio of the nine properties you have bought.”
He said his actions had been a breach of trust, although because the industry was unregulated, it was not as high as if he had been a solicitor.
“None the less a considerable breach of trust has occurred.”
Jason Sugarman, for Jones, said: “He feels terribly sorry for what has occurred.”
He set up the business with his former wife in 1996 as Norfolk Will Writers and then when they linked up to offer financial advice, changed the name to Heritage Legal and Financial. He said Jones took care of the probate side of the business.
Mr Sugarman said Jones did not spend the money on the high life but invested in property.
“He accepts he has let many people down, including the public, who trusted him.”
He said that he should be able to pay the full amount back.
Mr Sugarman added that Jones had now lost everything including his wife and his business.
A confiscation hearing is expected to be heard later this year,
When contacted no one from Heritage Legal and Financial Ltd was available for comment.