A FORMER Richards Butler solicitor who campaigned for two prominent young solicitors' groups has been imprisoned for 18 months and struck off the solicitors' roll after he stole more than £160,000 of clients' money to support his gambling addiction.
David Edwards, who worked at committee level in the European Young Bar Association and Young London Solicitors' Group, forged the signatures of two of his colleagues on 29 cheques to a total value of £169,000.
In what was described in court as a sophisticated and prolonged fraud Edwards began forging the signatures in 1993 and was only caught out shortly after he was made redundant from Richards Butler in the spring of 1995. In May 1995 he wrote a letter to the firm admitting his crimes.
Edwards pleaded guilty to six offences of theft in the Middlesex Crown Court last February, where it emerged he stole the money to feed his addiction to gambling.
While sentencing him, Judge Imman said that although the case was tragic the actions of Edwards had reflected "badly on your profession."
Edwards then sought to block a public hearing of the Solicitors' Disciplinary Tribunal but this was declined and on 6 November he was struck off the roll.
In a letter to the Tribunal, Edwards expressed deep remorse for his actions but indicated he wanted to become a practising solicitor again.
Former colleagues from both the YLSG and EYBA were shocked by the news of Edwards' imprisonment and said he was a leading light in their organisations.
In a statement, Richards Butler said that as soon as the forgeries had come to light it had instigated a full investigation, and reported the results to the Law Society and the police.
"The circumstances in which the cheques were forged were unique and affected only one client, who has been fully reimbursed. The client has been kept informed and involved throughout, and remains a client of the firm."