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Bury district judge struck off over £1.5 million swindle
3:36pm Thursday 2nd January 2014 in News
A Bury district judge has been struck off for his part in misusing more than £1.5 million in public money.
Solicitor Stuart Turner, aged 54, who sits as a district judge at Bury Crown Court, was found guilty of misusing legal aid cash at a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunaland struck off alongside his legal partner Denis McKay.
Turner, who lives in Elswick, near Preston, was accused of “deliberately and systematically” failing to account for at least £1.5 million during their time at Lonsdales Solicitors.
The pair did not declare these funds to the Legal Services Commission (LSC), now the Legal Aid Authority, and Lonsdales, which had offices in Blackpool and Preston, was closed down in 2011 after discrepancies were discovered.
The pair could now be subject to a police investigation.
Lonsdales held contracts to represent clients who had legal aid, and claimed costs and expenses from the other side to cover their costs.
Turner and McKay would receive money from the LSC for the work they did on behalf of their clients, but when the costs were recovered for the work from the other side they should have been returned to the LSC, which did not happen in a “large” number of cases.
The tribunal heard they had abused their position of trust, and that they had acted with “reckless disregard” for their professional obligations.
Turner was a district judge on the Northern circuit and was based at Bury County Court, and McKay was a senior partner who helped to found Lonsdales in 1981, and was also a former deputy costs judge.
Both had voluntarily refrained from sitting as judges until the matter had been concluded.
Turner said that he had no knowledge of the firm failing to report the LSC payment of costs received from third parties.
In his defence, McKay, from Lytham, agreed that the firm owed a substantial amount of money to the LSC but said they had hoped to pay back the debt.
Gordon Ramsay, director of enforcement at the Solicitors Regulatory Authority, said: "Solicitors hold positions of great trust, so it is essential that they act with integrity.
“The public needs to know that if solicitors fail to uphold these standards they will be held to account. Legal aid is there to support access to justice, not to fund solicitors' practices.”