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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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Flo Evans: Was Cooper responsible?

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‘THE PEMBROKESHIRE MURDERS’ has brought the crimes of local man, John Cooper, back to the forefront of our minds.
A notorious and brutal man, his crime spree, which could have started as early as 1961, would go on to leave 4 people dead, 30 homes burgled and 2 serious sexual assaults.

But now many local people worry that Cooper, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2011, may have been responsible for more.

This weeks ‘The Pembrokeshire Herald’ printed edition takes an in-depth look at 2 mysterious deaths in Llangolman, but there’s another death far closer to Cooper’s former stomping ground that the family believe could be connected to ‘The Bullseye Killer’.

At the time of her death in 1989, the same year that the Dixon’s met their grisly demise on the coastal path near Little Haven, frail 77 year old Flo Evans lived in Jordanston, a stones throw from Cooper’s house and well within his patch, in fact Mrs. Evans was mentioned by Cooper during police interviews.
It was later revealed that both John and Pat would visit Flo and John would do odd-jobs around her home.
Flo, it’s believed, liked the couple so much that she tried to help them secure land nearby for a small-holding.

Days after telling her friends that she was unable to find her house keys, Flo Evans was found dead in her bathtub, fully clothed.

Mrs. Evans death was, at the time, believed to be the result of her slipping and banging her head before falling into the bath and drowning.
Flo’s family never believed that version of events, talking to The Sun, Flo’s great-niece Rena Murphy said: “Aunt Flo was very set in her ways, she did things in a particular fashion.
“But the way she was found fully clothed in a cold bath and with no money in the house . . . we knew it was suspicious.”

Flo’s niece, Jean, said “Cooper knew my aunt. He visited her regularly and would have known there was always money in her handbag and more hidden upstairs.
“He lived across the fields from her and that fits with the way he approached his other victims.

“We could never understand why Aunt Flo was found dead in the bath with all her clothes on.
“She always lit a fire in the kitchen to heat the water before taking a bath and that fire wasn’t lit.”
“Money was missing, she didn’t have her false teeth in, the TV wasn’t switched off properly and the front door was open.”
Jean went on: “Hopefully, the police will now reopen the case. It would give us some closure.”

Rena finished by saying: “Even if they never charge him, we will still have the satisfaction of knowing he is locked up for good.”

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Puppies and ‘large quantity’ of alcohol stolen from Bramble Hall Farm

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DYFED POWYS POLICE is investigating the theft of four puppies and a large quantity of alcohol from Bramble Hall Farm, Pembroke Dock, at approximately 5pm on Sunday, January 10.

It is understood that one of the puppies, believed to be blind, was found wandering in Monkton and has been recovered.

A source close to the farm said they believed that the culprit or culprits may have driven to the farm in a retired local taxi.

Anyone with information about the theft or knows the whereabouts of the dogs please contact PC 773 quoting reference DPP/0053/10/01/2021/01/C.

This can be done online at: http://orlo.uk/0GKuU, by emailing 101@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk, or by calling 101. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired text the non-emergency number on 07811 311 908.

(Photo: Police at Bramble Hall Farm as part of a previous investigation into animal welfare. Herald photographer)

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Business grants: Find answers to frequently asked questions

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A SERIES of frequently asked questions (FAQs) relating to Covid-19 business grants has been put together by Pembrokeshire County Council.

It is hoped the FAQs will answer many of the queries being received from local businesses.

Understandably, given the number of different grants schemes that have been announced by the Welsh Government over the last year there have been a lot of questions about which grant to apply for, how the money will be distributed, anticipated timescales for payments etc.

The current grants being processed are the Restrictions Grants. The Firebreak grants have now closed.

One of the most frequent questions received is about the automatic payments of the Non Domestic Rates related grant.

The FAQs explain that where possible automatic payments for the Restrictions Grant were made at the end of December and start of January.

All automatic payments have now been processed.

If you have not received an automatic payment relating to the Non Domestic Rates grant then you will need to apply.

The Council has a dedicated team working hard to process the grants to ensure that the money reaches Pembrokeshire businesses as soon as possible.

The FAQs can be found here https://www.pembrokeshire.gov.uk/business-advice-and-support under the Restrictions Business Fund heading.

Further information on business grants and how to apply can be found via the same link.

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