‘Supreme breach of trust’: Top solicitor took £2m from clients and charities
- Credit: Archant
A senior solicitor has admitted taking £1.5m from his clients and £350,000 from two charities in what one victim described as a 'supreme breach of trust'.
Hugh Lansdell, who was a senior partner at Norfolk law firm Hansells, admitted five allegations at a hearing of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on Wednesday.
Lansdell, from Gresham, was struck off as a solicitor and will have to pay £27,388 to cover the costs of the investigation. Meanwhile a file is currently with the Crown Prosecution Service who are considering possible legal action.
The probe, by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, found the 70-year old took a total of just under £2m from customers and charities.
Documents show he "misappropriated" £1.5m from the accounts of Hansells' clients between August 2015 and July 2017.
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Russell Wright, from Cromer, first noticed money was missing from his father's estate in June 2017.
His father, John, died in November 2016, and Lansdell, who had been the family's solicitor for years, was meant to sort out the affairs.
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Instead, he took around £200,000 from their Hansells account.
Hansells, based in The Close, Norwich, paid the money back but Mr Wright said it is still causing the family problems today.
"I find the amount he took shocking but I also find it shocking how one lone wolf could do that without any checks and balances being in place," Mr Wright said.
Mr Wright, 59, said Lansdell came across as a "benevolent man".
"My mother thought the world of him," he said. "But it is a supreme breach of trust."
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.
He said Lansdell knew the charity's stock broker and told him they needed to sell the assets quickly.
But they only found out the funds were missing when Hansells contacted them in 2017.
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: "We still don't know how it happened. 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 too 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.
Hansells called in the Solicitors Regulation Authority a month later after discovering financial irregularities and Lansdell resigned as a director in September.
Hansells also reported the case to Action Fraud who referred it to Norfolk police.
A police spokesman confirmed a file had been passed to prosecutors who will now decide whether any charges should be brought.
The spokesman added a man in his 70s was arrested in November 2017 on suspicion of fraud and forgery.
Lansdell was known for his charity work across Norfolk.
He was a member of the Rotary Club of Aylsham where he was in charge of "public image".
He drummed up local sponsorship and Hansells sponsored the annual Rotary Santa sleigh, which raised money around the town.
He was known by fellow members as a "self-effacing man", "who would do anything for anybody".
One member said he was not flashy and it is unclear where the money was spent.
Lansdell, who has been approached for comment, was declared bankrupt in November 2017.
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."