Solicitor stole nearly £1m from bereaved families

A solicitor has been jailed for six years after he stole almost £1m from the estates of dead people.

Edgar Stephen Thomas, 58, abused his position to grossly exaggerate the costs of handling money and property belonging to bereaved families.

Swansea Crown Court was told Thomas defrauded 16 “vulnerable” families while he operated Steve Thomas and Co. solicitors as a sole practitioner in Haverfordwest, in west Wales.

After being asked to administrate the money, property and shares declared in the wills of the deceased he grossly inflated his charges, defrauding some families out of up to £100,000.

Prosecutor Jim Davies said: “Whilst acting as a sole practitioner solicitor he defrauded beneficiaries estates with charges that were grossly inflated and unjustified.

“He helped himself to his clients’ money without telling them what he was doing.”

Mr Davies said Thomas was investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority back in 2011 after auditors noticed he had been overcharging his clients.

But an “administration error” meant he was not subjected to any disciplinary action and he continued taking unjustified amounts of money out of his clients’ accounts.

He was subjected to another investigation in 2014 and was forced to close his practice, and was declared bankrupt in 2015 before eventually being struck off as a solicitor a year later.

Mr Davies said Thomas defrauded the families of 16 people by a total of £938,315 between 2007 and 2014.

The amounts varied from  £9,000 belonging to the family of Winona Phillips, to much larger sums including £95,000 belonging to the family of Pamela Price and £100,000 belonging to the family of Audrey Phillips.

Thomas also stole another £50,000 from businessman John Vaughan, owner of electrical store Vaughans Radio, after he acted on his behalf with the purchase of another business.

That brought the total amount from Thomas’ crimes to £988,315.

Mr Davies said “most though not all” of the defrauded families had been given compensation by the SRA, but other claims for legal expenses could still be outstanding.

Ian Ibrahim, defending Thomas, said his client had been “overwhelmed” by work after starting his law practice in 2005 and had used his “vulnerable” clients’ money to keep the business running.

Mr Ibrahim said: “Because of his very, very poor book keeping he encountered cash flow problems. His overheads were £60,000 a year.

“He knows he should have done far, far better than this.”

“He wishes to apologise to all effected by his actions as well as the pain and suffering because of it.”

Mr Ibrahim said Thomas’ wife of 35 years and their 23-year-old daughter were standing by him.

Judge Keith Thomas told Thomas his behaviour was “disgusting”, saying “people put faith in you at the most stressful time in their lives.”

Thomas, from Deerland Road, Llangwm, Haverfordwest, was jailed for six years.

A proceeds of crime act hearing will take place later this year.

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