A WORCESTER solicitor has been jailed for 20 months for defrauding and stealing more than £13,000 from elderly and deceased clients.
Stephen Climo, of Holt Heath, pleaded guilty at Worcester Magistrates Court on Friday, August 21, to four counts of fraud and one of theft and was sentenced at Worcester Crown Court on Friday (September 11).
Prosecuting barrister, John Brotherton, told the court the 50-year-old committed the offences whilst employed by Malvern solicitors, Gaynor-Smith and Owen (GSO).
In August 2014 Edith Barefield paid Climo £180 for instructing her will, copies of the statements were sent to the office but, the court heard, the funds were not paid into their solicitors account until May this year.
Climo also instructed a will for Doreen Nokes in April and invoiced her for £180. The court heard he repayed £190 into the office account on May 29. It was then the firm’s cashier raised concerns over the payments.
The court heard he dealt with Sheila Wardle, who was described as a lady with ‘opulent wealth’.
In June an audit of her affairs was carried out and two cheques were found made out to him, one in his hand-writing, for £2,000 and for £700. He paid them into his bank account with no explanation.
Following a review, GSO found Climo had befriended and visited Miss Wardle regularly and reimbursed her £3,000.
The court heard how following her death, Climo worked on the will and estate of Joan Jones.
During the reading, a friend of the deceased said seven withdrawals of £300 had been made from Ms Jones account.
Climo was questioned by GSO partners during a hearing on June 18 and admitted the withdrawals and a further one taking the total to £2,400, which the firm reimbursed.
“It was clear he had decided not to inform HSBC of her death to avoid the account being frozen,” Mr Brotherton said.
GSO handled three accounts on behalf of Arthur Waldwyn, one containing £50,000 to cover his care home costs.
More than £8,000 was taken from this account after responsibility for his finances had passed to Climo, the court heard.
He admitted making the cash withdrawals during the June 18 hearing, which GSO reimbursed and reported Climo to the police.
The court heard a statement from Edward Gaynor-Smith, partner of GSO, who said: “It has cost the firm more than £13,000 but I don’t regard this as the real loss, the real loss is to our reputation and standing in the community. I feel very betrayed and angry.
“I have had to face angry and upset clients, he abused the trust that was placed in him by GSO and our clients.”
Defending barrister, Jason Aris, said Climo had took an extension out on his mortgage to build an extension on his home.
“He then found himself in the position where his wife became quite unwell and was off work for a long time and his son was also poorly and had time off work,” he said.
“His brother-in-law moved in following a marriage break-up and his mother-in-law moved in and he was the only one working at the time.
“I put to you these circumstances not to excuse what happened because it is inexcusable but he was under considerable pressure, and he did what he did for reasons other than greed or to finance a lavish lifestyle.
Mr Aris said it was only a ‘matter of time’ until the offences would have come to light and Climo was relieved to have his offences out in the open to be dealt with appropriately.
Judge Richard Rundell said: “It is difficult to imagine a position which commands greater respect than that of the family solicitor who is trusted by his colleagues, he’s dealing with clients money and in that respect is expected to be considerably honest.
“In the course of three to four years you took money from vulnerable clients. You have let yourself down, your family and friends and your colleagues down,” he said.