Top solicitor who took £2m was duped by lottery scammers, tribunal says
- Credit: Angela Sharpe
A leading solicitor, who took almost £2m from his clients and charities, was fooled by lottery scammers and became obsessed with the 'power of prayer', a tribunal has said.
Hugh Lansdell, a senior partner at Norfolk firm Hansells, took the cash between 2015 and 2017 after becoming convinced he had won the lottery - and needed to pay fees to secure his "winnings", the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has said in a judgment.
As reported earlier this month, the 70-year old was struck off after admitting to taking £1.5m from his clients and £350,000 from two north Norfolk charities where he was a trustee.
Lansdell was trusted by families and the charities after a 40-year career and had easy access to their funds.
But the tribunal has now said that Lansdell, from Gresham, was driven to steal the cash when he received a letter in 2015 telling him he had won £825,000 the lottery.
He replied to the promoters who told him he had in fact won £1.825m and he needed to pay them fees to get his money, the tribunal report said.
Over the next two years he plundered his clients' accounts of almost £1.5m, making 59 payments to try to gain his fictional winnings, it said.
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He took some of the cash from the estates of the deceased whose families trusted him to organise their affairs.
One of those was Russell Wright, from Cromer. His father, John, died in November 2016, and Lansdell, was meant to sort out the affairs.
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Instead, he took around £200,000 from their Hansells account.
"The thing I find most difficult is how one lone wolf could do that without any checks and balances being in place," Mr Wright said.
On February 26, 2016, Lansdell also sold £88,000 worth of assets belonging to another client's private trust and took the money.
Then in November that year, he sold stocks worth £102,500 belonging to the Charity of Lillian Armitage where he was the clerk and pocketed those funds too.
David Fullman, a trustee of the charity, said they had trusted Lansdell, who had worked with them for a decade, to deal with the financial side of the charity.
"It had severe impact on the trustees," Mr Fullman said.
Then between June 2016 and June 2017, he took more money from another charity of which he was the clerk.
This time he sold assets worth £247,000 belonging to the Poor's Allotment charity in Sheringham and kept the cash.
Josh Horne, a trustee of the Poor's Allotment, said: "Up until the time he left Hansells, we were ignorant of any wrongdoing."
He said Hansells had paid the missing £247,000 back to them but it had caused a lot of stress.
Then in July 2017 the former Norwich School pupil took another £35,855 from two bank accounts over which he held a lasting power of attorney.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal traced some of the money Lansdell paid to four different accounts.
"Ningbo Two Birds Ltd, Jose Eudoro Torres Santana and PAXT Ltd are all persons to whom Mr Lansdell made payments, supposedly in respect of fees required to procure the release of his lottery winnings, at the direction of the individuals who were defrauding him," they said.
They named a fourth firm which Lansdell made payments to called N&F Trading Ltd.
Lansdell was stopped when a colleague became suspicious in April 2017 and Hansells investigated.
At that point Lansdell told the firm the payments were legitimate investments which he had been introduced to by his sister-in-law, the report said.
But Hansells then contacted the Solicitors Regulation Authority which investigated.
He left the firm in August 2017 and was declared bankrupt in November of that year.
A psychologist who prepared a report for the tribunal said Lansdell "developed an overvalued belief in both the power of prayer and the guidance of God".
She wrote: "He describes praying frequently throughout the day, feeling the need to pray even when he left his desk for a period of time.
"Unfortunately, it would seem that the overvalued belief in the guidance of God resulted in an inability to think rationally about the unfolding situation and led him to make some very serious errors of judgment."
Lansdell also told investigators he genuinely believed he had won the lottery and was suffering from a "serious mental illness", the report said.
Speaking earlier this month, a spokesman for Hansells said: "The Solicitors Tribunal is one step along a path towards determining culpability or otherwise in matters of concern that Hansells raised with the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the police in 2017.
"While those proceedings remain live, we cannot comment on testimony that has been put forward.
"The firm remains dedicated to providing the very best ethical legal advice to each of our clients — as we have done for nearly 200 years."
The criminal case is currently with prosecutors who will decide whether or not to prosecute Lansdell.
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