North Kent partners face £1m-theft charge

TWO partners at a North Kent firm stand accused of systematically stealing more than £925,000-worth of client money over a four-year period.

Partners Geoffrey Hufton, a former deputy North Kent coroner, and Robert Hammond, both partners at Tonbridge firm Skingley & Co, pleaded not guilty at Knightsbridge Crown Court last week to the thefts.

Hufton faces 14 individual charges of theft between 1989 and 1993 and Hammond faces 10 similar charges.

Crown prosecutor Andrew Baillie told the court that Law Society investigators found deficits of more than £401,000 in the firm's Tonbridge office and over £523,000 in its Rainham office.

He said the society's compensation fund was landed with a bill to clients of nearly £1.5m if all expenses were taken into account.

The court heard that the money had been used to fund the running costs of the firm and for other illegal purposes.

Baillie said: “The prosecution said that what they were doing was effectively appropriating clients' money for their own use, intending permanently to deprive them of their money.”

Earlier in the week the firm's senior partner Lionel Skingley pleaded guilty to the charge of theft of client money between July 1989 and April 1993. Sentence has been deferred awaiting the outcome of a separate case and Skingley has been granted bail on condition of residence at his Oxfordshire home and assurity of £10,000.

Skingley resigned from the post of North Kent Coroner in 1993.