Wigan solicitor on trial in theft case

Jurors are set to decide the fate of a former Wigan solicitor who is alleged to have stolen tens of thousands of pounds from her clients to prop up the business dealings of a bogus policeman.

Elizabeth Rose Egarr, 60, used to run Arthur Smith’s Solicitors, in King Street, where she is accused of raiding customers’ accounts and estates, and she has been on trial at Preston Crown Court.

Several businesses in Wigan were also allegedly defrauded out of more than £60,000 as a result of the wide-ranging scam, the court has heard.

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Egarr, formerly of Chantry Court, Westhoughton, but now of Faringdon Walk, Bolton, has denied theft from Arthur Smith’s, which has since been closed down.

Prosecutors say she was duped by a businessman posing as a bogus policeman, who persuaded her to hand over a series of ‘investments’ in his enterprises, by claiming he was due a substantial payout from a police special operations unit and had a family trust to fall back on.

The alleged conman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, claimed to have secured the “head lease” for Wigan Pier for £900,000. But he is alleged to have been an undischarged bankrupt at the time.

Prosecutor Jacob Dyer said the businessman used confirmations of his means, supplied by Egarr, to give credibility to his dealings in Wigan.

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Before he skipped town, he is said to have secured at least £22,500 from Arthur Smith’s, around £8,500 from GS Cold Storage, £18,000 from David Mayhall, of Allgates Brewery, and £17,000 from a representative of Thwaites Brewery, the court was told.

Jurors have heard that Egarr, who was eventually investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) transferred sums of money from clients’ accounts, at Arthur Smith’s, to the office account, then on to the bogus policeman.

Judge Heather Lloyd, giving directions to the jury, said that SRA investigator Lisa Bridges, in unchallenged evidence, had established that the financial transactions had taken place at the firm.

And Andrew Walsh, the finance officer at the practice, giving evidence, had confirmed that he had been instructed to make the transfers by Egarr, the court heard.

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Judge Lloyd said that the sole question for the jury to determine, in Egarr’s case, was whether she had been dishonest or not. Egarr insists there was no question of any impropriety and had made enquiries about getting the money back.

Jurors were told that the bogus policeman then went on to fraudulently acquire a rural attraction in the South Lakes, while conning two Cumbrian farmers out of land and a pension and allegedly defrauding a mortgage company.

Police were called in after a suspicious fire at the attraction, in July 2016, the court heard, and arson charges were later levelled at the alleged conman.

An investigation was already under way concerning the missing money belonging to Arthur Smith’s clients, jurors heard.

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The court heard that the bogus policeman enlisted the help of two other men, Malcolm Keith, 45, of Flookburgh, Cumbria, and Paul Kelly, 58, from Leeds, to help him establish his dodgy business dealings. The pair have denied fraud and aiding and abetting charges.

The alleged conman has pleaded not guilty to various fraud charges, forming companies while bankrupt, arson and perverting the course of justice.

Egarr, who has not given evidence at the trial, has denied theft from Arthur Smith’s.

The case continues.