Norwich solicitor behind dishonest acts
PUBLISHED: 15:00 24 February 2010 | UPDATED: 08:24 02 July 2010
A Norwich solicitor has been struck off and ordered to pay more than £20,000 after he admitted a "catalogue of dishonest acts", including helping himself to clients' funds.
A Norwich solicitor has been struck off and ordered to pay more than £20,000 after he admitted a “catalogue of dishonest acts”, including helping himself to clients' funds.
Nick Foster, who acted for hundreds of people buying and selling homes, admitted gross professional misconduct which had brought his profession into serious disrepute.
It has also emerged that Cole & Co, the Tombland-based firm in which he was a partner, has received a severe reprimand from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for overcharging clients for electronic bank transfers.
It charged nearly £30 for transfers that actually cost just £12 each, making a “secret profit” of more than £35,000 in just over a year-and-a-half.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard four allegations against Mr Foster, 42, a partner in the firm's conveyancing department. They related to his deliberate and improper use of money from clients and lender Northern Rock; a conflict of interests involving a client and behaviour that was “fraudulent, deceitful or otherwise contrary to his position as a solicitor”.
The panel heard Mr Foster, of Trowse, near Norwich, diverted more than £61,000 from clients and Northern Rock, using the money himself, to help buy property for his wife and to pay his builder.
He also acted for a seller, while secretly borrowing money to buy her property himself.
The tribunal ruled he had “been involved in a catalogue of dishonest acts” involving “gross professional misconduct which had brought the profession into serious disrepute.”
Mr Foster, who did not attend the hearing, admitted all the allegations. He was ordered to pay costs of £20,052.22 and was struck off the roll of solicitors.
It is understood no criminal investigation is under way. Mr Foster, well-known in local sporting circles as a club cricketer, is now working for a Norwich-based consultancy firm offering services to the insurance industry.
His solicitor Simon Nicholls, of Belmores, said Mr Foster had chosen not to contest the assertion of professional misconduct.
“Nick has accepted that, whilst working under unbearable pressure towards the end of his period practising as a solicitor, he made significant errors of judgement,” he said.
“This unfortunate period of his professional life has left a deep and long-lasting scar both on him and his family and he is truly sorry for any problems caused by his actions and lack of thought.
“He unreservedly apologises to his former partners, work colleagues, clients, and friends who may have been affected by his conduct. He is glad that the matter is now at an end and wishes to embark on the long process of rebuilding his reputation and family life.”
Cole & Co, based in Tombland, Norwich, received a severe reprimand from the SRA last April following an investigation into Mr Foster's fraudulent behaviour.
The investigation revealed the firm had made £35,321 in “secret profit” by overcharging clients for the telegraphic transfer of funds between May 2005 and January 2007. The firm's partners agreed to pay £4,007.55 in costs.
In a statement, partner David Clarke said Cole & Co's internal systems exposed “irregularities” involving Mr Foster in January 2007.
“Following a thorough internal investigation, Mr Foster was confronted by the other partners in the firm and asked to leave with immediate effect,” he said.
“We referred our concerns to the Law Society and co-operated fully with their investigations into Mr Foster's conduct. Immediate steps were taken to ensure that no one was out of pocket.
“Mr Foster was a partner in the firm's conveyancing department and a popular solicitor well respected in the local legal and business communities. We are very saddened that he has let so many people down but are pleased to see that this matter has finally been resolved by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.”
Regarding the “secret profit” from telegraphic transfers, Mr Clarke said: “We were mortified to discover that we had inadvertently stepped outside of what is permitted by our professional regulator.
“We fully accepted the SRA's findings and agreed to enter into a regulatory settlement, the terms of which unfortunately do not allow me to comment more fully. Our actions were not underhand and all relevant money has or will be returned to the firm's clients or donated to a local charity.”
Were you one of the clients whose money Mr Foster improperly used? Contact reporter Jon Welch on 01603 772476 or email email@example.com
Nick Foster acted for five clients in the purchase of 19 holiday cottages, using only one client ledger. After the deal was completed, he used the remaining balance of £32,500 on the ledger in the purchase of a property by his wife.
He also acted for a man named as Mr B. During the transaction, Northern Rock sent the same loan sum twice, resulting in a surplus of £10,736.87. Again, Mr Foster used that money to assist in the purchase of a property by his wife.
He also used £1,300 from the account of client Ms KE for the same purpose.
Mr Foster acted for a Mrs C on a sale, but she was unaware he had borrowed money to buy her property himself. There was not enough money retained to pay estate agents' fees of £3,290.
He also acted for a Mr M, using some £6,500 of the surplus balance on the client ledger for his own purposes.
When acting for client Ms B, a payment of £1,500 was made from her account, unrelated to her sale. In fact, the money was a payment to Mr Foster's own building contractor.
And he used £5,937.94 from other clients, Mr C and Miss D, some four years after completion of their property purchase.