Solicitor was not wittingly involved in property scam

Philip Vaughton handed a fraudster client a briefcase stuffed with £268,000 in cash from his own bank account.

The tribunal heard that in 1990 Vaughton, then a partner at Northampton-based Howes Percival, was handling the sale of property developer RHDL's newly-converted block of flats in Cleveland.

But, unknown to Vaughton, the fraudster, “Mr F”, a director of RHDL, had devised a scheme to “release” his investment in the company by arranging £650,865-worth of mortgage loans to buy nine of his own company's flats.

Mr F, an American, persuaded Vaughton to send the money received from the building societies to himself, rather than to his company.

Vaughton sent £280,000 to Mr F's Guernsey bank account and put £268,000 in his own account, which he then withdrew as cash and handed to Mr F, who flew to the US with it.

Vaughton, who is now an assistant solicitor at Williams & Co in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, said he had no idea his client was involved in fraud. He said he had found Mr F “a pleasant and charming man” and was impressed by “his tenacity as a businessman”.

He described the Milton Keynes office where he had worked as a “legal factory”.

Vaughton said that he was extremely pressured and a computerised conveyancing system under which different fee earners handled different stages of a transaction meant that no one individual had control of a file.

In a further development, Mr F sent a written affidavit to the tribunal from the US, stating that Vaughton had not known about his plot and that he was sorry if he had got his solicitor into trouble.