Top solicitor admits £2m fraud after being duped by lottery scammers

PUBLISHED: 13:46 19 August 2020 | UPDATED: 16:20 19 August 2020

Hugh Lansdell was a senior partner at Hansells solicitors. Photo: Archant

Hugh Lansdell was a senior partner at Hansells solicitors. Photo: Archant

Archant 2014

A top solicitor has admitted taking almost £2m from clients and charities - after being duped by lottery scammers.

Hugh Lansdell, pictured in 2013, admitted the fraud in court on Wednesday. Photo: ArchantHugh Lansdell, pictured in 2013, admitted the fraud in court on Wednesday. Photo: Archant

Hugh Lansdell, 71, pleaded guilty at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday to fraud by abuse of position between August 2015 and July 2017.

Lansdell, of The Close, Norwich, was a senior partner at Hansells until 2017, when a colleague became suspicious and his fraud was exposed.

He began taking money from clients’ accounts after becoming convinced he had won a lottery - and needed to pay fees to secure his “winnings”, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal said in a judgment last year.

But he was the victim of scammers and when things went wrong, he relied on the “power of prayer and the guidance of God” the tribunal found, which led to “very serious errors of judgement”.

Hansells offices in Tombland, Norwich. Photo: GoogleHansells offices in Tombland, Norwich. Photo: Google

He took around £1.5m from his clients and £350,000 from two north Norfolk charities where he was a trustee.

•How did it happen?

The tribunal said the solicitor, who lives in The Close, Norwich, received a letter in 2015 telling him he had won £825,000 in a 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.

Over the next two years he plundered his clients’ accounts, making 59 payments to try to gain his fictional winnings.

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.

But instead, he took around £200,000 from their Hansells account.

“It was a supreme breach of trust,” Mr Wright said. “Everyone thought he was ‘Mr Nice Guy’.”

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.

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.

In mitigation to the tribunal, Lansdell’s representative said: “His misconduct was committed in consequence of a deception perpetrated upon him by others who were engaged in serious criminality.

“He had a genuine belief that he had won a substantial prize in a lottery. His intention was always to replace the sums which he had misappropriated once that prize was finally received.

“At the time relevant to the allegations he was suffering from a serious mental illness.”

•What happens now?

After the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal concluded, the Crown Prosecution Service was asked to look at whether there should be a criminal prosecution of Lansdell.

They decided there should be and at his first appearance in court on Wednesday, his solicitor Michael Cole, said his client pleaded guilty.

Robyn Khan, prosecuting, said the matter was not suitable to be dealt with in the magistrates’ court due to the amount of money involved at £1,963,659.44.

The case was adjourned for a pre-sentence report and will be heard at Norwich Crown Court at a date to be fixed.

Mr Cole said there would be psychiatric reports available which would form part of the Lansdell’s mitigation.

A spokesman for Hansells said: “When discrepancies came to light over three years ago, Mr Lansdell was immediately suspended from Hansells, the Police and the Solicitors Regulation Authority were informed. He was expelled from the partnership in September 2017.

“The firm remains dedicated to providing the very best legal advice to each of our clients.”

They added they were unable to comment further while legal proceedings remained ongoing.

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