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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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New Eco Feature For Haverfordwest

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Plans have been submitted for a ‘living green wall’ to be planted in the centre of Haverfordwest in a bid to enhance local biodiversity and wildlife.

The green wall would be situated alongside the river opposite Glan-yr-Afon, the town’s library and cultural centre, and planted with 25 species of native plants including ferns, grasses, flowers and wild herbs including basil, sage and clary.

As well as providing an important habitat for pollinators, the wall would also be an attractive natural feature in its own right, says Sara Morris, Pembrokeshire County Council’s Development Plans and Conservation Manager.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to re-introduce nature in the heart of Haverfordwest,” she said. “As with all planting, it will take some time for the plants to grow and flourish but given time it will look very attractive.”

The maintenance of the wall, which is scheduled for installation towards the end of October, would be carried out by a team of volunteers. New benches made from Welsh slate would also be installed to encourage residents and visitors to enjoy spending time in the area.

The green wall is part of the Cleddau Reaches partnership project which forms one of the priorities in the Haverfordwest Regeneration framework.

The Cleddau Reaches partners are Pembrokeshire County Council, the Bridge Meadow Trust, Haverfordwest Town Council, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and Haverfordwest Kayak Club.

Pembrokeshire College and the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority have also supported the project.

The aim is to improve and enhance the rights of way network in and around Haverfordwest and in particular, around the Western Cleddau, through several different inter-linked schemes.

Grant funding of approximately £250,000 has been provided by the NRW, Haverfordwest Town Council and the Landfill Disposals Tax Community Scheme.

Cllr Paul Miller, Cabinet Member for Economy, Tourism, Leisure and Culture, says the project’s focus on the river follows recognition that for too long, it has been an under-utilised resource despite being one of the town’s key natural assets.

“The Cleddau Reaches project brings together many ideas which the community has put forward over the last 20 years,” he said.

“As well as boosting biodiversity, the project forms part of the wider package of investments we are bringing forward to support Haverfordwest Town Centre.

“This administration is determined to revive the fortunes of the County Town, transforming Haverfordwest Town Centre from a traditional retail centre that’s being left behind into a vibrant leisure destination where residents and visitors alike want to spend their time.”

Some of the work currently taking place as part of the Cleddau Reaches project includes new riverbank paths near the Bridge Meadow with plans to create a new footbridge connecting to the Old Mill Grounds.

Other plans include creating habitats for sand-martins, otters and lampreys upriver, creating a trail linking up with the Town Council’s Priory Saltings project, and installing five interpretation boards along the route describing the flora, fauna and history of the local area.

The green wall planning application is currently registered with Pembrokeshire County Council for determination.

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Homes in Pembrokeshire can get free boilers and insulation

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PEMBROKESHIRE HERALD is teaming up with Blackburn based company Euro Insulation, who are working on a Pembrokeshire County Council backed energy scheme called the ECO: Help to Heat programme.

The scheme intends to utilise government funding for the reduction of fuel poverty within the county.

The council says that it has worked for many years to improve homes locally, and is keen for as many households to sign up as possible.

The local authority is working with ECO energy installers.

Funding is only available for private owner occupiers and private rented tenants. Qualification of flexible eligibility in Pembrokeshire will be determined by certain criteria.

Grants are available to a range of households including those with someone aged over 60, with a child under 5, and homes with children in primary or secondary school, or with a pregnant mother.

The Pembrokeshire Herald is letting as many homeowners know as possible about the scheme and has a call centre open to take queries on behalf of Euro Insulation who will be doing the work.

The aim is to reduce C02 emissions and make homes more energy efficient in Wales.

They are with the Welsh Assembly Government to show homeowners how they can get a brand-new boiler, internal wall insulation and room-in-roof insulation

The funding is only available until December.

To be considered for a FREE boiler or INSULATION call our call centre on 01437 70 70 70

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Fishguard: Armed police presence at Fishguard port

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ARMED officers from Dyfed-Powys Police were on scene at the port in Fishguard this morning (Sept 18).

Border Force and the RNLI were involved in the operation, which reportedly involved a vessel being escorted into the harbour.

Details of the incident are still unfolding, and the police have been contacted for a statement.

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