Shamed lawyer is struck off

Jonathan McAreavey
Jonathan McAreavey

A lawyer whose Wigan town centre firm closed suddenly nearly two years ago had misappropriated clients funds totalling more than £15,000.

Jonathan McAreavey, who ran Unsworth and Wood in King Street, also tried to deceive a financial investigator from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) who was probing affairs.

The lawyer, who had run the practice single-handedly since August 2006, repaid the missing money during the SRA inquiry.

But McAreavey was still struck off, and ordered to pay £15,000 costs, after a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) panel, earlier this year, ruled he had been dishonest.

Panel chairman Andrew Spooner said: “The misconduct was deliberate and calculated and continued over a period of time. (He) had concealed his wrongdoing and fabricated documents to try and cover it up.”

An SRA investigation was launched in July 2015, and after irregularities were found with the firm’s books, the firm was closed down the following October.

Shaun Moran, for the SRA, said while the regulator’s financial investigator was examining files, McAreavey handed over letters for a client, named only as Mr D.

But his secretary had already told the official no file existed for Mr D. When McAreavey was pressed further, he confessed to drafting the documents the night before.

The SDT panel also heard McAreavey misappropriated £15,750, mostly from deceased clients. The money was later replaced by the lawyer.

He was also found to have levied costs on clients totalling £2,574 in costs, without informing them first, failed to maintain proper accounting records, and did not adequately respond to the SRA investigator’s questions.

The Legal Ombudsman was also involved, after a complaint from executors of a deceased client’s estate. The watchdog ruled his work fell significantly below expected standards. But he failed to release £9,930 from the estate to the executors until county court proceedings were undertaken.

Lawyer Jonathan McAreavey, who had practised since November 1991, was not present at the London tribunal hearing which ultimately decided his fate.

Earlier in the case, it was contended by McAreavey’s doctor that he had a “severe and debilitating condition” and was not fit to participate in the proceedings.

But Shaun Moran, representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said the solicitor had not turned up on three occasions to contest the allegations.

And as no further medical evidence had been forthcoming, he successfully applied for the case to be heard in his absence by the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal.

Panel chairman Andrew Spooner ruled that while McAreavey did not hold a current practising certificate, he was facing “serious allegations” and there was a general public interest in resolving the case, so the hearing should go ahead without his presence being required.