A BURNLEY solicitor has been struck off after a tribunal found she misused more than £400,000 of her clients’ money to prop up her struggling firm.
Kimberley Bridge, a partner at SFN Solicitors, in Red Lion Street, was found to have breached 19 regulations, including nine charges of dishonesty.
The Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) ordered the 42-year-old, of Cumbrian Way, Burnley, to pay costs of £31,947 jointly with her sister, Nicola Roach, a clerk at the firm.
Ms Roach, who breached 10 regulations, was given an order banning her from working for a law firm without the consent of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).
Charles McNabb and Tracy Stansfield, also partners at SFN, were each found to have breached 10 regulations and were formally reprimanded, and each fined £2,000 with £8,420 costs.
The SDT heard Mrs Bridge tried to conceal a £186,000 shortfall in SFN’s account by creating a fictitious property sale, then claiming she was taking the lender to court for failing to send through the mortgage money.
By August 2012, there were payments worth £714,000 which had not been allocated to the correct clients in the ledger, £232,000 of which had been paid into Bridge’s personal account.
The SRA eventually discovered a shortfall of £418,000 resulting from a number of improper transactions.
Among the 19 allegations found proven against Mrs Bridge were a failure to act in the best interests of clients, a failure to act with integrity and making improper withdrawals from the client account between November 2010 and November 2012.
SFN closed its office at short notice in October 2012 and the business was wound up by the SRA in January 2013. Passing the sanctions, an SDT spokesman said: “This is a very sad but disturbing case. Mrs Bridge and Ms Roach deliberately and systematically defrauded everyone around them, including Mr McNabb and Mrs Stansfield.
“Neither Mr McNabb nor Mrs Stansfield derived benefit, and indeed suffered enormous loss.
"Mr McNabb was a senior solicitor. He was present throughout the last year and perhaps could have done more. We believe a £10,000 fine is appropriate, but given his means, have decided to fine him £2,000.
“Mrs Stansfield suffered from health problems. She made significant attempts to take advice. She has been declared bankrupt. However, she was a partner, and that is reflected in her admissions.”
Gordon Ramsay, the SRA’s director for legal and enforcement, said striking Mrs Bridge off ‘was clearly appropriate’.
He added: “Solicitors hold positions of trust, and the principles we expect them to abide by state they must act with integrity and maintain that trust that the public puts in them.”