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Llangwm: Bankrupt ex-solicitor must repay nearly £200k or spend more time in jail

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A CROWN COURT judge has decided that a bankrupt former solicitor who was jailed for massively over-billing clients must pay back almost £200,000 or spend extra time in jail.

Edgar Stephen Thomas was jailed in January. He received a six-year sentence for over charging clients nearly £1m. He is appearing at Swansea Crown Court today for his proceeds of crime hearing.

Has been ordered to repay victims £196,000 or spend an extra two years inside.

He abused his position to grossly exaggerate the costs of handling money and property belonging to bereaved families. He 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.

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

He said his client had been “overwhelmed” by work after starting his law practice in 2005 and had used his “vulnerable” clients’ money to keep the business running.

“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.”

Mr Ibrahim added: “Because of his very, very poor book keeping he encountered cash flow problems. His overheads were £60,000 a year.

“He knows he should have done far, far better than this.”

“He wishes to apologise to all affected by his actions as well as the pain and suffering because of it.”

Mr Ibrahim said Thomas’ wife of 35 years and their 23-year-old daughter were standing by him.

Judge Keith Thomas told Thomas his behaviour was “disgusting”, saying “people put faith in you at the most stressful time in their lives.”

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

Swansea Crown Court was told Thomas defrauded 16 “vulnerable” families while he operated Steve Thomas and Co. solicitors as a sole practitioner in Haverfordwest, in west Wales.

After being asked to administrate the money, property and shares declared in the wills of the deceased he grossly inflated his charges, defrauding some families out of up to £100,000.

Prosecutor Jim Davies said: “Whilst acting as a sole practitioner solicitor he defrauded beneficiaries’ estates with charges that were grossly inflated and unjustified.
“He grossly overcharged and then deducted the payments directly from the estates of deceased people,” he said.
“He helped himself to his clients’ money without telling them what he was doing.”

Mr Davies said Thomas defrauded the families of 16 people by a total of £938,315 between 2007 and 2014.
The amounts varied from £9,000 belonging to the family of Winona Phillips, to much larger sums including £95,000 belonging to the family of Pamela Price and £100,000 belonging to the family of Audrey Phillips.
That brought the total amount from Thomas’ crimes to £988,315.

Mr Davies said “most though not all” of the defrauded families had been given compensation by the SRA, but other claims for legal expenses could still be outstanding.

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.

The court heard that Thomas then 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 his client 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.

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Residents invited to a Pembroke Tunnel drop-in event

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NETWORK RAIL is inviting residents to a drop-in event to find out more about essential maintenance work at Pembroke Tunnel, west Wales, which will improve the resilience and reliability of the railway for passengers.
The work includes essential vegetation management and rock netting in the area with work taking place for a week in December before the main work takes place in January and February.
Ahead of the work residents are invited to a drop-in event on Monday 18 November from 3pm to 6.30pm at the Dutton Suite, Pembroke Leisure Centre, Bush, Pembroke, SA71 4RJ.
No appointments are necessary and members of the project team will be on hand to answer any questions.
Then between Saturday 14 and Friday 20 December Network Rail will carry out drilling work overnight to install rock anchors at the top of the railway cutting as Network Rail prepare for the main phase of the works.
That will then take place between Sunday 19 January 2020 and Saturday 8 February 2020 where engineers will work day and night to install rock anchors and bolts before installing the rock netting across the railway cutting using road rail vehicles and specialist machinery.
Michael Pinkerton, scheme project manager for Wales and Borders, said:
“We would like to thank residents in advance for their patience and understanding as we carry out this work at Pembroke Tunnel.
“All this planned essential work forms part of our commitment to maintain a safe and reliable railway that is fit for use now and in the future. We are working closely with our partners to keep disruption to the local community to a minimum and encourage anyone wishing to find out more about this work to come along to our drop-in event later.”

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“We have a duty to win” says Crabb at campaign launch

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STEPHEN CRABB has launched his 2019 General Election campaign, highlighting the ‘duty and responsibility’ the Party has to win.
The Welsh Conservative candidate is hoping to be re-elected on December 12, having served as MP for the last 14 years.
At the launch at Martha’s Vineyard on Milford Marina, Stephen addressed a crowd of supporters with a promise to continue being a strong voice for Preseli Pembrokeshire in Westminster.
Stephen Crabb has consistently been one of the hardest working Welsh MPs with a strong track record of standing up for the local community.
Speaking at the campaign launch, Stephen said: “This General Election will be the most important for many years.
“We face a choice between the Conservatives who have a clear plan to unblock Brexit and improve Britain – or a coalition of opposition parties under Jeremy Corbyn, who want more years of delay and division.
“That is not in our national interest nor is it in the best interests of Pembrokeshire. The Conservative Party has a serious duty and responsibility to go out and win this election.
“Over the last 14 years I have fought tirelessly for local people and local businesses and if re-elected, I will continue to work hard to give Pembrokeshire a strong voice in Parliament.”
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Christmas shopping misery for west Wales rail users

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RAIL USERS in west Wales face festive misery due to engineering works which will close the Carmarthen to Milford Haven link for almost a month.

The line will be closed from this Sunday, until the Sunday before Christmas, at a time when many take the train to Swansea and Cardiff shopping for gifts for friends and family.

Signs have already been posted at railway stations confirming the delays.

Trains will be replaced by buses; rail officials have said.

A spokesman from Network Rail said: “Due to essential maintenance work, rail replacement bus services will run between Carmarthen and Milford Haven from Monday, November 18 until Sunday, December 22.

“Pembroke dock and Fishguard services are also affected on Sunday November 24.

“On all other days of operation, the train services will continue to stop at Whitland, Clynderwen and Clarbeston Road, Fishguard and Goodwick, Fishguard Harbour and stations to Pembroke Dock.

“We apologise for any inconvenience.”

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