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Llangwm: Solicitor jailed for six years for £1m fraud

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A PEMBROKESHIRE solicitor who overcharged clients by almost £1m has been jailed this week for six years.

Edgar Stephen Thomas, aged 58, charged one client at the rate of £20,000 a week without doing any work at all.

Another was charged at £12,000 a week and went on to lose a total of £100,000.

Thomas, of Stephen’s Green, Deerland Road, Llangwm, admitted 23 offences of fraud and theft, which stopped only when his firm of Steve Thomas and Co was closed down by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Jim Davis, prosecuting, told Swansea Crown Court that Thomas got away with the frauds by deducting monies from the estates of deceased people without telling the beneficiaries.

“He grossly overcharged and then deducted the payments directly from the estates of deceased people,” he said.

“He helped himself without telling them what he was doing.”

The overcharging began in 2005 when he was asked to handle the estate of Richard James Rogers. He charged the estate £41,800 plus VAT but internal documents showed that as the work decreased his bills increased.

Thomas agreed overcharging that estate by £12,000.

Thomas went on to plunder many more accounts.

The most outrageous example, said Mr Davies, related to the estate of Audrey Williams, who died in 2013.

Thomas charged £127,250 plus VAT, sometimes raising–but not posting–two invoices a day. He agreed he had overcharged by £100,000.

Mr Davis said Thomas’ offending did not stop there. His firm was hired by Vaughan’s Radio, an electrical store in Haverfordwest, to handle the purchase of a business in Aberystwyth.

Thomas simply kept for himself £50,000 of the purchase price.

Mr Davis said Thomas had worked for Eaton Evans in Haverfordwest, rising to becoming a partner, before leaving to form his own firm in 2005.

His accounts had to be audited and as a result the SRA were alerted to fears that he was overcharging.

A detailed forensic examination of his accounts was carried out and the fears were confirmed, along with the discovery of a shortfall in his client’s accounts of £144,326.

There was then an administrative error at the SRA and the initial report was not acted upon until June 2014, when a second financial investigation revealed more fraud and he was later struck off.

In February 2015 Thomas was declared bankrupt.

Mr Davis said the SRA had reimbursed those who had lost because of Thomas’ fraudulent behaviour, but there remained the question of costs and whether he could be made to repay any of the money. An investigation under the Proceeds of Crime Act is underway.

Thomas’ barrister, Ian Ibrahim, said his client was now broke and all the money had gone on keeping his business afloat.

“His fall from a high place has been dramatic. His remorse is complete and utterly without qualification.

“He has lost everything and knows that he will go to jail today.”

Judge Keith Thomas said those who worked in the legal profession had to demonstrate the highest level of integrity because the public put trust in them, sometimes at the most stressful times of their life.

“Your victims have described your behaviour as disgusting and despicable.

“You were struck off in 2016 and have had to wait a long time for the process to be complete, but that is partly because you were not willing to admit the extent of your offending,” he added.

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10% Council tax rise supported

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IN A RECORDED vote, Pembrokeshire County Council has approved its draft budget for 2019/20, which will see a 10% rise in council tax.

The budget was approved at Thursday’s (Feb 21) Full Council meeting but was met with some opposition by some members who said other options were available.
Cabinet member for Finance, Cllr Bob Kilmister described his role as a ‘poisoned chalice’ but went on to say: “We are still cheaper in Pembrokeshire than any other local authority in Wales. I have heard that increasing the council tax may have a burden on many who fit into the category of working poor.
“However, if we cut more services it will affect these people the most.”

He went on to highlight a number of outcomes should council tax not be increased by 10% and added: “An additional £1.89 a week avoids these outcomes.”

There is also an extra £1m to cover Brexit but Cllr Kilmister said he had ‘no idea’ if that would be enough.

Cllr Brian Hall asked how many redundancies would be made if certain services were changed but Cllr Kilmister said they were looking at what they have got in the council and looking to train for those people who are leaving vital jobs.

Cllr Hall said that the majority of staff were really concerned, and Cllr Kilmister said they could not start that process until a decision was made on the budget.

Cllr Jamie Adams said they needed to come up with a budget that was more ‘wider-thinking’ and said it was about ‘delivering value for money for Council Tax payers.
He said he was unable to support the budget that demands 10% and challenged other members saying: “Don’t be afraid of doing that, there are different ways to square the circle.”

Cllr Josh Beynon said that while a 10% rise was not the most popular it was the right thing to do.

Cllr Phil Kidney said he was finding it tough to get his head round the customer service centre closing and said they would ‘disenfranchise’ a lot of people by doing so.
However, Cllr Kilmister later said that the service would still be provided but in a different way.
He also said that the current administration was doing more of getting rid of buildings that the previous administration ever did. He added: “This is not something I am doing out of choice, I am doing it out of necessity.”

Cllr Pat Davies said she was ‘dismayed’ to find the previous administration had no strategic plan and said that she had done a lot of catching up over the last 18 months.
Speaking on the transformation program, Cllr Michelle Bateman said progress was being made and that she didn’t want to be part of a council that cuts services and keeps council tax low.

Cllr John Davies explained that the council does have other options and Cllr Kilmister challenged him saying he was welcome to make a new proposal but told Cllr Davies he would have to tell him where the money would be coming from.

Cllr Kilmister went on to say they could only do the budget on the information they have.
Council Leader Cllr David Simpson praised Cllr Kilmister for what he had done over the past 12 months saying he had done an ‘exceptional job’.
He went on to say that he was ‘proud’ of his whole cabinet who had the ability to answer any questions that came their way.

Cllr Simpson then said: “The staff we have in this building are superb, do we want to slash their jobs? No we don’t. We are looking at departments and making cuts where we can.”
When it was put to the vote, 37 members voted in favour of the budget, with 21 voting against.

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Councillor denies ‘bullying’ claim

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A COUNCILLOR has denied that he ‘bullied’ a senior officer of the council when he said that the Chief Executive and Dyfed Powys Police enjoyed a ‘cosy relationship’.
That was the claim made by Cllr Jacob Williams at a recent meeting of the Corporate Overview and Scrutiny Committee in relation to the delay in sending a letter of complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
The complaint related to the Pembroke Dock Commercial Property Grants scheme, which is still being investigated by Dyfed Powys Police.
At a meeting of Full Council on Thursday (Feb 21), Cllr Ken Rowlands submitted a question asking if the leader agreed with his statement.
The leader, Cllr David Simpson simply replied: “No, I do not.”
In response, Cllr Rowlands said: “Would you agree that the member concerned slandered our chief executive and the police?”
He went on to say that he was far from happy for an officer to be insulted and bullied in such a way.
Cllr Rowlands felt it was a breach of the code of conduct and added that Cllr Williams should make a public apology.
Cllr Simpson responded: “I have had three communications after the Jacob Williams and Chief Executive incident. All three left a meeting with me understanding that it is not the leaders’ role to interfere with members.
“If the actions are unreasonable the chair is there to make sure members act in a good way. There are sixty members and I can’t alter their opinions. As for a breach of the code of conduct, that is a matter for you and if you think he has you have an obligation to go to the monitoring officer.”
Cllr Jacob Williams stated that he ‘categorically denied’ the claims made by Cllr Rowlands and said he understood that he did make a complaint to the monitoring officer but that it wasn’t considered appropriate to refer to the ombudsman.
At the same meeting, questions were also asked by Cllr Mike Stoddart in relation to the council’s handling of the letter of complaint.
He asked which officers were involved in drafting a letter and was told that the Head of Legal services made a decision to provide a draft which was authorised by the committee services manager.
Cllr Stoddart also asked why there was a lack of clarity as to who the letter should be sent too.
Cllr Simpson responded saying the resolution was unambiguous and that the IOPC website directed complaints to Dyfed Powys Police which was contradictory to the resolution of council.
Finally, Cllr Stoddart asked when the letter of rejection was received by then chair Cllr Paul Harries, how long after putting it in his briefcase did he rediscover it.
Cllr Simpson replied on behalf of Cllr Harries stating it was found on October 10, 2018.
Cllr Stoddart replied simply to say that it had been ‘lingering in the bottom of his briefcase for five months’.

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Haverfordwest: Pedestrian killed on A4076 at Dregeman Hill

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AT 11.10PM on Wednesday, February 20, Dyfed-Powys Police received a report of a road traffic collision on the A4076 at Dredgeman Hill, Haverfordwest.

The collision involved a car and a pedestrian. Tragically, the pedestrian was pronounced dead at the scene.

The police told The Herald: “We are appealing for any witnesses that may have been travelling along that section of road at that time. Anyone with information is asked to contact the Serious Collision Investigation Unit quoting message 431 of February 20.”

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