A SOLICITOR at a Kidderminster law firm has been struck off and fined £32,000 after he used client money to keep his company in business.

Richard Prescott, of Prescotts Solicitors, based in Church Street, was found to have used clients' money intended for third parties to keep his business afloat during a disciplinary tribunal.

The Shuttle reported in July last year how the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) intervened into the practice and seized control of all files and money, in response to suspicions of dishonesty.

A forensic inspection of the firm in November 2016 found a cash shortage in the client bank account caused by incorrect transfers to the office's account totalling nearly £150,000 - placing Mr Prescott in breach of the SRA's Account Rules.

Mr Prescott said no client had lost out and that the shortage was due to accounting errors, but the tribunal found beyond reasonable doubt that he had failed to protect client money, describing the breaches as 'continued, multiple and extensive'.

A tribunal hearing which ran from November 12 to November 14 heard how, in December 2014, Mr Prescott transferred £2,089 from a client's residual estate funds without providing any written notification of the costs.

Mr Prescott said he believed he was entitled to transfer the money to pay for additional work undertaken, but the tribunal found no evidence of the work stated.

The accused was also reported to have borrowed at least £44,000 from a client's interim damages in February 2016 without specifying the terms of the loan.

Mr Prescott said he had permission to borrow the money, but the tribunal found he had not acted in the client's best interests and failed to protect his money.

In September 2009, he provided loans of at least £5,000 to a client while acting for him in a personal injury matter. Mr Prescott said he did not make any financial gain from the arrangement, but the tribunal found the loan constituted a clear conflict of interest.

The tribunal said it had become 'common practice' for Mr Prescott to use money owed to third parties for his own purposes.

Mr Prescott said the failure to pay professional disbursements was not intentional, but due to the 'chaotic nature' of his accounts department.

However the tribunal concluded his conduct had been dishonest, describing the misconduct as 'deliberate, repeated and had continued over a period of time'.

Mr Prescott was ordered to be struck off the Roll of Solicitors and pay costs of £32,000.

A report of the hearing, published this month, reads: "The respondent's conduct was in material breach of his obligation to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the reputation of the profession.

"The only appropriate and proportionate sanction, in order to protect the public, and maintain public confidence in the integrity of the profession and the provision of legal services, was to order that the respondent be struck off the Roll."