Solic­i­tor struck off af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ‘cheque clear­ing scheme’

Ormskirk Advertiser - - Front Page -

A SOLIC­I­TOR has been struck off af­ter al­low­ing £8m to flow through her ail­ing Orm­skirk law firm as it ef­fec­tively be­came a bank­ing fa­cil­ity.

Bar­bara Grib­bin was also or­dered to pay £28,000 costs af­ter a So­lic­i­tors Dis­ci­plinary Tri­bunal (SDT) in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the demise of Ice­blue Le­gal.

Grib­bin, 55, owned the com­pany, which was based in Church Street in the town cen­tre, and ef­fec­tively over­saw a cheque clear­ing scheme with a third party, the SDT heard.

This al­lowed large sums to be paid out be­fore cheques were cleared, in di­rect breach of So­lic­i­tors Reg­u­la­tion Author­ity (SRA) prin­ci­ples.

She also failed to re­turn al­most £40,000 of client money as the fi­nan­cial prob­lems rocked the com­pany, even choos­ing which cheques to with­hold on the ba­sis of which were the least likely to re­sult in com­plaints.

Ice­blue Le­gal be­gan trad­ing in 2013 and its ser­vices in­cluded per­sonal in­jury, clin­i­cal neg­li­gence and wills and pro­bate.

Grib­bin con­tacted the SRA in Au­gust 2018 and said that there was a short­age on the firm’s client ac­count of about £150,000.

She ex­plained that the short­age had arisen in the last six months of 2017 be­cause she had al­lowed a business part­ner, named only as Mr AD, to pay cheques into the client ac­count, which she then paid to an­other com­pany be­fore the cheques had cleared.

But the cheques from Mr AD had started to bounce.

An SDT re­port into the case said: “Dur­ing that tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion the re­spon­dent also stated that she had at­tempted to re­place the short­age, but that she would not be able to do so and would be con­tact­ing an in­sol­vency prac­ti­tioner.

“The re­spon­dent also told the SRA that due to the short­age there had been de­lays in mak­ing pay­ments to clients.”

As a re­sult of the call, a foren­sic in­ves­ti­ga­tion of­fi­cer (FIO) from the SRA con­ducted an in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Dur­ing her in­ter­view with the FIO, Grib­bin ex­plained that she found it dif­fi­cult to run the business alone af­ter the orig­i­nal direc­tors left and had con­sid­ered clos­ing the prac­tice be­fore Mr AD, who she had known for many years, sug­gested they join forces.

She ac­cepted she had been “stupid” to al­low the cheque clear­ing scheme and said it be­came “al­most like a cy­cle that I didn’t know how to get out of”.

She said she had gained no ben­e­fit from the ar­range­ment but “knew it was wrong and still agreed to do it”.

She added: “And that was my fail­ure. I shouldn’t have done. I shouldn’t have done. I just shouldn’t have done be­cause I’ve ba­si­cally been s**t on from a great height… But, I’ve got to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for al­low­ing it to hap­pen.”

Grib­bin felt she had be­come trapped by the sit­u­a­tion and hoped a mir­a­cle would come along to rec­tify her prob­lems.

In mit­i­ga­tion, the tri­bunal ac­knowl­edged that she had not taken any draw­ings for months and had been us­ing her own sav­ings and had taken out loans to keep the business go­ing.

The tri­bunal found Grib­bin had acted with a lack of in­tegrity, al­lowed her in­de­pen­dence to be com­pro­mised, failed to act in the best in­ter­ests of clients and had acted dis­hon­estly.

She was struck off and must pay al­most £28,000 in costs.

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