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Milford Haven: Warrant issued after struck-off solicitor failed to attend court

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Eaves Solicitors: Closed in December 2012

Eaves Solicitors: Closed in December 2012

A WARRANT was issued on Thursday (Jan 22) for the arrest of a solicitor who used money from a dead woman’s estate to bulk up his company accounts.

Simon Griffiths, 52, who ran Eaves Solicitors in Milford Haven was struck-off the roll by a Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal in October 2013. Griffiths failed to attend Llanelli Magistrates’ Court to answer a charge of false accounting, and one further charge of abuse of position.

The chairman of the bench at Llanelli Magistrates’ Court issued a warrant for the immediate arrest of the former lawyer, and the police were informed.

Griffiths, from Pembroke, was arrested and appeared at Haverfordwest Magistrates’ Court today (Jan 23) to confirm his name and address.

Griffiths’ case will now be dealt with at Swansea Crown Court on Jan 30.

Griffiths was hauled before the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal fifteen months ago, after concerns were raised about his practice at Eaves Solicitors in Milford Haven.

Facing charges: Simon Griffiths

Facing charges: Simon Griffiths

He faced a number of allegations, including failing to fulfill and undertaking and misleading another firm of solicitors, which were found proved. At the beginning of 2011, Griffiths was instructed in the sale of house and undertook the duty to discharge the mortgage before the completion of the sale in April 2011.

However, despite giving repeated assurances to the purchasers’ solicitors, he failed to do so, the tribunal found. “On April 5, a day before completion, Eaves solicitors Mr Griffiths, gave a written undertaking to redeem the Bank of Scotland charge, to provide confirmation of discharge, as the sale was received by the mortgagees,” said Geoff Hudson for the SRA.

He said Eaves Solicitors had received around £100,000 from the sale of another property, but that it would not have been enough to discharge the Bank of Scotland mortgage.

“What sums that had been received were taken for the benefit of the company of which Griffiths was sole director,” Mr Hudson said. He added that one of the accounts ledgers at Eaves did not “meet the required standards” in terms of the information that it contained, and showed money being transferred into the accounts of companies for which Griffiths was the director. The panel was also told that during the sale of the house, Griffiths had twice “misleadingly” wrote to the solicitors of the purchasers to say that he had fulfilled his duty when he had not.

Mr Hudson said: “We say he knew when he wrote those letters because of the pressure and the threat to report to the SRA and to deflect the pressure in misleading them that the mortgage had been redeemed and that the problem was the mortgagee. “We say for a solicitor to mislead another in that way would be seen by reasonable and honest people as being dishonest behaviour.”

The tribunal heard that up until Monday (October 21) the mortgage had still not been discharged. In August 2012 a forensic financial investigation into the running of Eaves solicitors was launched after an allegation surfaced about the transfer of £30,000 from a client’s estate into a company account for which Griffiths was director. The woman, known only as Mrs Ward-Jones, had died and left an estate worth around £150,000 to her two sisters, one of whom, Christine Sheridan, was in a care home. Eaves accounts showed an entry in the July 31 ledger that £30,000 had been paid out as an “interim distribution” to Ms Sheridan’s account.

Financial investigator for the SRA, Oliver Baker, told the hearing that Griffiths’ book-keeper had first raised concerns about practice at the firm. “The firm’s book-keeper pulled me to one side and asked me to look at it as he had not seen supported documentation in relation to the transfer, and I believe he had some concerns about the state of the firm and Griffiths at the time.”

He added that the book-maker was also concerned because he had seen some documentation suggesting the firm might have to close down, but that this was not communicated to him. Mr Baker eventually discovered that although Griffiths had tried to hide the transaction in a paper trail, the sum of £30,000 had in fact gone to an account for Harwood Court Ltd, a company at which Griffiths was the director. “We say for a solicitor to use client monies for his own purposes is seen by reasonable and honest people to be dishonest behaviour,” Mr Hudson said.

Griffiths, who did not attend the central London hearing and was not represented, admitted all of the allegations apart from those relating to account issues. He claimed that at the time of his misconduct he has been suffering from a personality disorder, but the panel found there was not enough evidence to support this. He was found guilty of all the allegations and struck off. Griffiths was also ordered to pay £31,200 in costs.

Finding that Griffith had acted dishonestly, panel chair Dominic Green said: “We have considered this matter carefully on the respondent’s absence.

The seriousness of the misconduct was of the highest level and that a lesser sanction than striking off is not appropriate. “The decision today is that the first respondent is struck off. We have decided that, for protection of the public, and the protection of the reputation of the profession.” Griffiths’ wife, Sarah, and partner firm was initially named as a respondent in the proceedings, but parties reached an agreement with relation to her involvement.

Have you been affected by Eaves Solicitors closure? Please contact The Herald on 01646 45 45 45.

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Welsh Guards sergeant shot dead during Castlemartin live-fire training exercise

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A BRITISH ARMY sergeant was killed on Thursday night (Mar 4) in a shooting accident at Castlemartin Training Area, The Herald can confirm.

The solider was training with live ammunition, ahead of a planned deployment to Iraq this summer.

Five police cars and an ambulance were seen screaming through Pembroke towards the incident at approximately 10pm towards the incident.

A coastguard helicopter, CG187, was scrambled to the scene, and hovered near Bosherston for a while, but was stood down and returned to base.

The Herald has contacted the MOD for a comment, who said: “It is with great sadness we can confirm the death of a soldier on the 4th of March.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this tragic time.

“The circumstances surrounding this death are being investigated and it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

THIS STORY IS UPDATING

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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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