Solicitor who stole from dead clients jailed

Craigavon Courthouse. INPT21-239.
Craigavon Courthouse. INPT21-239.

A Moira solicitor who stole almost £94k from the estates of three deceased clients was jailed for four months yesterday (Tuesday May 12).

Sentencing John Irwin (39) of Trummery Heights, Moira to a further eight months on licence on his release, Judge Kinney said the former solicitor had ‘breached the high degree of trust’ placed in him by his professional colleagues and by members of the public.

The judge said the breach of trust was among a number of aggravating factors in the case, including the ‘long period of time’ over which the offending had taken place and the large amount of monies involved.

Irwin had previously pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud by false representation and a three of false accounting.

Craigavon Crown Court was told the offences took place between August 2007 and July 2012 and involved three deceased men and their relatives, who he was acting for in probate matters.

Barrister Joseph Murphy, prosecuting, had told an earlier hearing that the offences came to light in 2012 when the Law Society received a complaint about Irwin and an investigation was launched into his solicitor’s practice.

Judge Kinney was told that three cases were found to be at fault with a total loss to relatives of the deceased men amounting to £93,366.97.

The prosecutor said that monies were taken out of the client account and then lodged into the office account of Irwin’s practice.

The court heard Irwin was suspended from practice by the Law Society and was subsequently struck off from practising as a solicitor. He was also later bankrupted.

Mr Murphy added that Irwin’s parents had paid £65k over to the Law Society’s Compensation Fund and a further £15k was paid over by the defendant from the sale of his family home.

The prosecutor told Judge Kinney that the offending had taken place over a five-year period and that he was making cash withdrawals from his client account.

Barrister Conor Maguire, defending, said Irwin had made full admissions during the Law Society investigation and also at police interview.

But he said that Irwin found himself in a difficult situation financially and had always intended to pay back the monies and there was no intention of his part to ‘permanently deprive his clients of their cash’.

Mr Maguire aid Irwin used the money to try to keep himself and his business going and was not used to fund an ‘extravagant lifestyle’.

The defence barrister said Irwin’s offending had had a ‘devastating impact’ on his wife and two young children and they were forced to sell their £220k family home.

Urging Judge Kinney not to jail Irwin even though the custody threshold had been reached, Mr Maguire said Irwin was not likely to reoffend.

However Judge Kinney told Irwin: “There is no basis for accepting that you had any intention of paying the money back in an economic upturn in the property.

“You knew what you were doing and you should have accepted your lot like everybody else who was in a similar position to you.

“You have brought disgrace to an honourable profession. The level of trust in this case was high, both to your professional colleagues and to the public.”