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Llangwm: Pembrokeshire solicitor struck-off for preying on the dead

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Sign for Steve Thomas & Co in Llangwm (Pic: Google Streetview)

Sign for Steve Thomas & Co in Llangwm (Pic: Google Streetview)

EXCLUSIVE

A PEMBROKESHIRE solicitor has been struck off the roll by the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal for dishonestly transferring money from the estates of deceased clients to his firm’s office account.

Edgar Stephen George Thomas of Steve Thomas & Co Solicitors, Deerland Chambers, Llangwm, Haverfordwest attended a hearing in London between March 14-16. Thomas represented himself.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority was represented by Mr Edward Levey, a barrister from Fountain Court Chambers, London.

The sum identified as missing from client’s accounts was £144,326.25

ALLEGATION

The allegations against Thomas were that he failed to provide adequate or accurate information to clients about likely overall costs at the outset of matters or throughout the conduct of them where required, and thereby breached rules and transferred sums from his Client Account to his Office Account in respect of his fees otherwise than in accordance with Rule 19 of the Solicitors’ Accounts Rules 1998

The tribunal also head that on or about 16 June 2014, Thomas provided misleading information to a client as to the reasons for delay in distributing the proceeds of an estate.

APPLICATION TO ADJOURN

At the start of the hearing Thomas said he wanted an adjournment as he had not seen all the documents. He accepted that the application to adjourn should have been made at an earlier stage, however he only became aware of this on reading the Tribunal’s practice note on adjournments, which he had read for the first time that morning. The Respondent accepted what was contained in the note, and asked the Tribunal to exercise its discretion in allowing an adjournment. Further, in view of the length of time of these proceedings, there was no real urgency. He no longer held a practising certificate, and had not worked since July 2014. He had not held himself out to be a solicitor, and did not hold any client money. In the circumstances, there would be no prejudice in adjourning the proceedings.

Mr Levey submitted that the position was entirely unsatisfactory, and that the case should proceed. The Respondent had failed to file and serve his own documents, despite numerous directions requiring him to do so, which left the Applicant in the position of opening and presenting its case, without knowing what the Respondent’s case was. Mr Levey did not accept that there was anything further to be disclosed to the Respondent, and submitted that his application to adjourn on the basis of lack of disclosure was total obfuscation and an attempt to avoid dealing with the issues.

The Respondent told the Tribunal he had been arrested by Dyfed-Powys police in relation to these matters, and remained on police bail. He was due to return to the police station in May 2016. He understood that the police were still carrying out enquiries, but that they could attend to arrest him at any time before his bail to return date. Given that, the possibility of criminal proceedings was imminent.

THE LOCAL PAPERS

The Respondent explained that he lived in a small rural community, and that the outcome of the proceedings was sure to make the local papers. If the allegations against him were found proved, then his community would see the findings, making it impossible for him to have a fair trial. The Respondent apologised for the lateness of the application. He explained that he had not previously had the benefit of legal advice, but having recently contacted solicitors, he was advised that he should seek to adjourn these proceedings until the outcome of the criminal matter. Mr Levey submitted that as the Respondent had not yet been charged, there was no possible basis, under the Tribunal’s practice direction, to justify adjourning the hearing; charges had not yet been laid so criminal proceedings could not be described as “imminent”. The Applicant had contacted Dyfed-Powys police with a view to ascertaining how they intended to proceed. Unfortunately, no response had been received from them, and the Applicant was unable to provide any update to the Tribunal.  The Tribunal refused the Respondent’s application to adjourn the hearing.

Thomas explained that he had set up his firm as a sole practitioner in 2005. As a result of advice from his accountant, he changed the firm to a company. He was the only person in his practice who dealt with the probate matters which were the subject of the allegations. He denied that he had overcharged his clients, stating that he “honestly and truly believe that the charges were correct.” The cash shortage of £144,326.25 identified by the investigator in his first report had been rectified by the Respondent delivering bills of costs to the clients.

COMPLETELY CULPABLE

The Tribunal found the Respondent to be completely culpable for the breaches; the misconduct having arisen as a direct result of his sole actions. The Respondent was wholly responsible for the transfers and was the only fee earner with conduct of the matters. The Respondent was an experienced solicitor, who disregarded the regulations put in place to protect his clients. He utilised the funds in his client account in such a way as to demonstrate that he did not believe that he was accountable to his clients. His actions were planned and calculated. Of most concern was the blatant dishonesty he had displayed in abusing his position of trust. He deliberately and calculatedly delayed in distributing in full a number of estates, and during the delay drew down on the monies in those estates. The Tribunal found that in acting in the way that he did, the Respondent had caused harm not only to his clients and beneficiaries, but also to the trust the public places in the profession and the provision of legal services.

The Tribunal Ordered that the Respondent, Edgar Stephen George Thomas, solicitor, be struck off the Roll of Solicitors and it further he do pay costs of £76,000.00.

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Pembrokeshire County Council bills Home Office for Penally camp costs

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THE COUNCIL has sent an invoice for more than £80,000 to the Home Office.

It is to cover some of the costs that the local authority has incurred in connection with the Penally Asylum Seeker Centre, near Tenby.

Following a question on the issue from Cllr Jonathan Preston at Full Council the Council have confirmed that a bill has been sent.

The Member for Penally ward asked: “Please can the relevant Cabinet Member provide a breakdown of all costs to this authority which have been incurred in providing staff, services and other associated resources to Penally camp since its re-purpose by the Home Office last September?”

Council leader Cllr. David Simpson confirmed that on February 22 Pembrokeshire County Council submitted an invoice for £83, 858 which includes £65,564 in staff costs, £12,799 of specialist support and £5,495 for works such as barriers.

Pembrokeshire County Council is currently awaiting payment, the Authority confirmed.

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Hospitality sector welcomes Budget boost

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IT HAS been so long it seems since we could stand at a bar and enjoy a well-earned pint, but now we are on the road back to normality, the Herald has spoken to some of those in the hospitality sector who have been asked to close. We wanted to know what the owners in businesses in these sectors locally thought of the budget and if Rishi Sunak had done enough to help them.

We first spoke to a Milford Haven restaurant business. Owner of Martha’s Vineyard in Milford Haven, Dan Mills said that the budget was not a silver bullet to fix all problems but said that the budget had gone a fair way to delivering what many in the Pembrokeshire hospitality sector have been calling for in recent weeks.

Dan Mills said: “The biggest risk many of us were facing was the cliff edge of a VAT increase, the end of the Furlough Scheme and a return to full business rates, I’m pleased that the Chancellor has recognised this and taken action on all fronts.

“With talk of the Welsh Government restricting us to outside trading for an initial period, the flexibility that the Furlough Scheme brings will be a huge help to ensure staff retain their jobs.

“I was also delighted to see that the Chancellor has provided funding to Wales to ensure that we benefit from a further 12 months of Business Rate Relief here in Pembrokeshire, that’s money that many of us can instead invest into restarting our businesses.

“I hope that the conversation that unfortunately began due to Covid between politicians and the Pembrokeshire hospitality and tourism sector can continue long beyond this crisis, it seems that through some open and honest feedback we are making real progress.

Award winning gastro-pub The Griffin Inn is well known throughout Wales and has received many national reviews. Their reputation puts them in a strong position once they are allowed to re-open. We spoke to Sian and Simon Vickers about the budget.

Simon Vickers, co-owner is also a director of Visit Pembrokeshire. He told The Herald: “I think the budget was very positive for the hospitality industry with the reduction in VAT being the biggest help.

“Overall I feel the government have supported the industry amazingly

In regard to tax on alcohol, Simon said: “Duty has been frozen It would have been nice to have seen a cut in it. Whether there’s a cut or not the breweries always increase their prices so in all honesty it never affects us.”

The ongoing financial support has been welcomed by industry group CAMRA, The Campaign or Real Ale, but the organisation said that the Chancellor had missed the opportunity to lower beer duty to save our pubs.

Their national chairman Nik Antona issued a statement to The Pembrokeshire Herald saying: “Freezing alcohol duty is obviously better than a rise. However, CAMRA had hoped to see the Chancellor announce a cut in duty on beer served on tap in pubs and social clubs to benefit consumers and help the great British pub recover and thrive in the difficult months and years ahead by being able to compete with supermarket alcohol.

“The Government’s commitment to review alcohol duties in the coming months is welcome. CAMRA will continue to call for a lower rate of duty for beer served in pubs – an option available to the Government now we have left the European Union.

“Reducing tax on beer served in pubs and social clubs would encourage responsible drinking in a supervised, community setting – as well as boosting jobs and local economies, helping consumers and benefiting pubs and licensees.”

On financial support announced, Nik commented: “Cutting VAT as pubs begin to reopen, and reducing it until April next year, means they can now start benefiting from that cut – but CAMRA believes this VAT cut should be extended to alcohol so that traditional locals that don’t serve food can benefit too.

“The extension of furlough until September and new grants of up to £18,000 are very welcome. However, pubs are unlikely to be able to fully reopen at pre-COVID trading levels due to outside space and then table service only indoors. The beer and pubs sector will need further support over the coming months, over and above new loans, to help them get back on their feet until there is a full and proper re-opening and they can trade at full capacity.

“Extending the business rates holiday until the end of June will help keep the wolves from the door for many English pubs, with the two-thirds reduction for the rest of the financial year a welcome step. However, given how tough it will be for many pubs we believe the 100% cut in business rates needs to be extended for a full 12 months as has already happened in Scotland.”

Picture: Simon Vickers, Griffin Inn, Dale

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Milford Haven-bound ‘flying oil tanker’ hits the national news

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A MILFORD HAVEN bound oil tanker has made the national news, after a photograph taken off the Cornish coast made it look like the ship was flying.

An optical illusion caused the ship to appear as though it was floating above the horizon

The ship is believed to be the Hafnia Malacca Oil/Chemical Tanker which is heading to Pembrokeshire from Primorsk, Russia via the English Channel.

David Morris, from the hamlet of Gillan, near Falmouth took a photo of the ship near Falmouth, Cornwall, the BBC have reported.

On the BBC news website, meteorologist David Braine said the “superior mirage” occurred because of “special atmospheric conditions that bend light”.

He said the illusion is common in the Arctic, but can appear “very rarely” in the UK during winter.

Mr Morris said he was “stunned” after capturing the picture while looking out to sea from the hamlet of Gillan

Mr Braine said: “Superior mirages occur because of the weather condition known as a temperature inversion, where cold air lies close to the sea with warmer air above it.

“Since cold air is denser than warm air, it bends light towards the eyes of someone standing on the ground or on the coast, changing how a distant object appears.

“Superior mirages can produce a few different types of images – here a distant ship appears to float high above its actual position, but sometimes an object below the horizon can become visible.”

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