Solicitor sanctioned for inadvertently aiding fraudulent football club bid
Richard Quinn of Riley Hayes Solicitors has been fined £5,000 by the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal (‘SDT’) for making reckless misrepresentations in a letter utilised in a fraudulent bid to purchase Hartlepool United Football Club (‘HUFC’).
The investigation into Mr Quinn’s conduct followed the conviction of ‘Mr M’, a business man and former director of Swindon Town Football Club, for a number of frauds, including an attempted purchase of HUFC.
Mr Quinn was investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (‘SRA’) for providing an engrossed letter addressed ‘To Whom it May Concern’ regarding proof of funds and offering to give an undertaking to make these funds available to HUFC. The SRA stated that the letter was misleading, that it purported to be from the firm when there was no retainer in place and that no due diligence steps had been taken to verify the assertions of the financial position of the individual. They stated that Mr Quinn therefore failed to act with integrity and failed to act in a way that maintained the trust and confidence the public places in the profession (Principles 2 and 6 of the SRA's Code of Conduct).
The SRA’s investigation additionally uncovered that Mr Quinn had offered to make his firm’s client account available to receive a deposit of £250,000 without notifying the partners and without any retainer for any underlying transaction. He also received payments to his personal bank account in respect of work undertaken for 'Mr M' without informing the partners and allowing his independence to be compromised (a breach of Principle 3 of the Code).
When questioned by the SRA and Warwickshire Police about his dealings with 'Mr M', it was asserted to the SDT that Mr Quinn demonstrated a 'lack of candour' and had therefore acted dishonestly (a breach of Principles 2, 6 and 7 of the Code).
In mitigation, Mr Quinn submitted that he ‘appeared to have been duped by a convicted fraudster’, that there was no tangible loss to any party, that he deeply regretted his involvement in the matter and it was the only time that his professional conduct had been called into question. Mr Quinn also submitted that he was experiencing personal financial difficulties and was the sole carer for his two sons.
The Tribunal concluded that Mr Quinn’s conduct was not premeditated or planned. He had acted in a way that ‘was sloppy in his approach… but motivated by a desire to ‘get more work in’ for the firm’. The Tribunal found that, even though he appeared to have been deceived, he had failed to act with integrity and that it was ‘entirely fortuitous that significant harm had not materialised’. A financial penalty of £12,000 was deemed adequate but reduced to £5,000 (plus costs of £6,000) due to Mr Quinn’s limited means.
The SDT's judgment can be found here.
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