Seventeen former employees of disbanded West Country law firm Robinsons have been arrested and questioned by the Serious Fraud Office, which is investigating alleged misuse of legal aid funds.
The 12 men and five women were arrested over the weekend of 26 and 27 April in a series of raids on their homes by SFO detectives and uniformed officers from the police forces of Somerset and Avon, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire.
The 17 were taken to various police stations in Gloucestershire for questioning, but were later released without charge pending further investigations. The SFO would not confirm the employment status of any of those arrested.
Cheltenham-based Robinsons was once one of the UK's biggest criminal law firms, but was dissolved two years ago. The home of senior partner Tim Robinson was raided in 1995 by the SFO, which seized documents. At the time, Robinson accused the police of wanting to put him out of business because of his high-profile criminal defence work and described the raid as a “fishing expedition”.
The latest arrests come 15 months after 23 former employees of the firm were arrested in raids in Bristol, Swindon and Cheltenham.
Since the firm disbanded, Robinson has set up a new firm, Smith Robinson and Co, in Cheltenham.
He was in Tenerife when the latest raids took place, interviewing potential witnesses for his client Tracie Andrews, who is accused of killing her boyfriend Lee Harvey in a country lane in Worcestershire last year.
Robinson issued a statement saying that the alleged irregularities, dating from 1991 and 1992, had nothing to do with Smith Robinson.
“All I can say is that no-one has ever suggested that I have been involved in any impropriety or misconduct,” he said.
The SFO has refused to release any further details of the operation or the progress of the inquiry, other than to confirm that the alleged fraud involves the Legal Aid Board and that 17 people were arrested as part of an on-going investigation into Robinsons.
The Solicitors Complaints Bureau investigated the firm after the raids in 1995, but no disciplinary action was taken. A spokeswoman from the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors said: “We are being kept abreast of what is happening at the SFO and are waiting to see what the outcome is.”