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Lawyer found guilty of professional misconduct in mortgage fraud case

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  • 04/02/2020
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Lawyer found guilty of professional misconduct in mortgage fraud case
A lawyer has been struck off after he failed to act in the best interests of his client, who was an elderly victim of a mortgage fraudster.

 

The solicitor was found guilty of professional misconduct in the case, which saw a 70-year-old transfer ownership of her home to a conman, according to Scottish Legal News.

The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) said Alistair Bowie demonstrated a “serious and reprehensible departure from the standards of competent and reputable solicitors” when he failed to take the necessary steps to prevent the fraud.

 

Did not query the case

Fraudster Edwin McLaren, targeted vulnerable homeowners in financial difficulty through newspaper adverts.

McLaren typically persuaded victims to sell their homes, with the promise he would clear their debts and allow them to remain in the property rent-free.

After making fraudulent mortgage applications, he arranged for the homes to be bought at discount prices leaving his victims homeless and out of pocket.

Bowie, based near Glasgow, was instructed by McLaren to open the client’s file, who lived some 80 miles away in Dundee.

McLaren has since been sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Crucially, Bowie did not query many parts of the case, including why he had been instructed for a transaction in Dundee, nor ask why the client had decided to sell the property below its market value at the age of 70 and how she came to agree the sale.

He did not discuss with the homeowner the lack of rights she would have to remain in the property once it was sold.

And it was found the solicitor did not advise his client on the terms of the document and failed to stress the conditions which were “warnings which should have been at the forefront of his mind”.

He failed to properly consult the client and had “no authority” to act on the client’s behalf when he requested the title deeds to her property and mortgage redemption figures.

Furthermore, the solicitor did not discuss the consequences of his actions, particularly that she had no right to remain in the property.

He also made a “false declaration” as a notary public when he completed the client’s declaration of insolvency.

Mr Bowie said he was “entirely unaware” of Edwin McLaren’s fraud and “deeply regretful” of the distress caused.

The solicitor considered the case to be a “standard conveyancing transaction” where the client had been introduced by a third party.

However, he reportedly wished he had been “more proactive” in enquiring about the circumstances with the client.

Mr Bowie retired in 2017 after an “unblemished record” of 42 years in practice and did not intend to reapply for a practising certificate.

 

‘Ought to have known better’

The tribunal accepted that Bowie had been ‘duped’ by McLaren but added “this kind of fraud can only succeed if solicitors are willing to act in these circumstances” .

It added the solicitor “ought to have known better” and considered the professional misconduct “so serious that the only suitable sanction was strike off”.

In a written decision on the matter, SSDT chair Nicholas Whyte said: “Solicitors must always be trustworthy and act honestly. They must act in the best interests of their clients.

“They must have the authority of their clients for their actions. They must communicate effectively with their clients. They must advise clients of any significant developments in their case.”

 

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