A solicitor has been jailed after being found guilty of stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds from an elderly client.
Stephen Acres worked as a solicitor a the firm based in Potters Bar and became a joint executor for the affairs of one of his elderly clients, along with a relative of the client, due to health concerns. In 2013 following the death of the relative Acres, now with sole control of his client’s affairs, began taking money from the victim’s bank account.
Acres used a debit card that was issued to him by the victim’s bank to withdraw more than £340,000 between 2013 and 2016. The cash was spent on goods, petrol, restaurants etc. none of which was for the benefit of his victim. Money was also transferred to his personal bank account as well as to another person’s account, which was then funnelled back to Acres.
The offences first came to light when Acres paid off a personal debt to another solicitor using a cheque that belonged to the victim’s bank account and applied to the ledger of the victim. This was reported to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and an investigation commenced; however Acres claimed the payment had been a mistake and the case was adjourned pending further evidence.
In May 2015 the proceeds of the sale of the victim’s house, £225,000, was transferred to an unknown bank account. Acres claimed that the money had been transferred to a friend of the victim. This prompted further investigation by the SRA, who also questioned other payments made from the victim’s account.
In 2016, the Court of Protection removed Acres’ access to his victim’s accounts due to the mismanagement of the finances, and appointed a different firm of solicitors, who were able to request the victim’s bank statements and further information on the questionable transactions that had occurred.
The SRA concluded during a hearing in 2017 that Acres had defrauded the victim of a large amount of money, including the £225,000 from the house sale. He was struck off the roll of solicitors, and ordered to pay costs.
The case was then referred to Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit, and further enquiries were undertaken. It was soon established that the beneficiary of the £225,000 was in fact Acre’s former partner, who after receiving the money had sent the majority of it back to Acres.
Acres admitted to stealing £225,000 from the victim, and creating a false Deed of Variation to make it appear that the victim had consented to this, pleading guilty in advance of the court case. However, he denied the charges of stealing other monies from the victim’s account.
On 25 March, Stephen Acres, 58, from Watford, appeared at St Albans Crown Court and was found guilty of the remaining 11 charges following a trial. He appeared at Huntingdon Law Court on Thursday 5 May and was sentenced to a total of six years, with half to be served in custody, with the judge saying that Acres was entirely motivated by his own needs with little concern for the victim.
Detective Constable, Liz Heath, from the Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit who lead the investigation said “Stephen Acres was trusted to safeguard the finances of a vulnerable and elderly woman suffering with dementia. However, once the other attorney passed away, it gave Acres free access to the victim’s account to use it as though it were his own. He stole large sums of money from her, in order to pay off debts as well as towards a lifestyle, and despite claiming to have the intention of paying it back, he made no attempts to do so. He just continued to spend the money of an elderly woman, who had worked hard her whole life, and had believed he was there to do the right thing by her.”
If you believe you have been the victim of fraud you can contact the Hertfordshire Constabulary non-emergency number 101 for advice. Alternatively report information online or you can speak to an operator in our Force Communications Room via our online web chat.