Partners convicted over £925,000 theft

THE SENIOR partner and two other partners of a small north Kent firm have been convicted variously of stealing and conspiring to steal £925,000 from their clients in a case that has cost the Solicitors Compensation Fund almost £1.5m.

At Knightsbridge Crown Court on 24 April, Skingley & Co partners Geoffrey Hufton, a former north Kent deputy coroner, and Robert Hammond were found guilty of theft and conspiracy to steal.

At a separate hearing, the senior partner of the now defunct firm, Lionel Skingley – a former chairman of several social security and other tribunals and a former north Kent coroner – admitted conspiring with his two partners to steal from a client.

During Hufton's and Hammond's trial, the court heard that hundreds of thousands of pounds of clients' money was spent on the costs of running the firm and for the partners' own purposes.

The deficiency in client accounts came to light when the Law Society investigated the firm in early 1993, after which it was closed.

A Kent Police investigation subsequently found that there had been 634 breaches of the Solicitors' Accounts Rules.

Andrew Baillie, prosecuting, said: “These are the most basic and most important rules that a solicitor has to follow.”

All three partners will be sentenced on 15 May.