Crown Office & Law Society ‘deal’ allowed a ‘crooked lawyer’ to escape justice over client fraud charges. SIGNIFICANT FAILURES on the part of prosecutors at the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service and the lawyer’s regulator the Law Society of Scotland to prosecute solicitor THOMAS HUGH MURRAY over a string of fraud allegations made by his former clients have allowed the one time Stirling based lawyer who has been the subject of several investigations to slip away to the Northern Italian town of Lucca in Tuscany after the Law Society and prosecutors suspiciously failed to pursue charges the struck off solicitor embezzled £18,000 from client Neil McKechnie.
It has now emerged via the Sunday Mail newspaper that Murray, the solicitor involved in the client scam has been ARRESTED TWICE by Scottish Police, once over fraud charges and again after an attempt to flee the UK to avoid being prosecuted. However, the charges were dropped after a cosy deal was reached between the Crown Office & the Law Society of Scotland who then failed to act to protect clients.
The now Italian based Tom Murray, who as a solicitor was sequestrated in 2001 in Scotland, continues to avoid any moves to recover compensation for ruining his clients lives even though he has appeared before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) on no less than three occasions, (i) Law Society-v-Thomas Hugh Murray 01/03/2005 (ii) Law Society-v-Thomas Hugh Murray 25/11/2005 and (iii) Law Society-v-Thomas Hugh Murray 10/12/2009. Murray was found guilty of professional misconduct in respect of misrepresentation, deception and misleading clients including his failure to tell his clients he had been barred from practising as a lawyer.
However, the Law Society of Scotland and SSDT’s attempts to prosecute Murray over the complaints have been called into question after it was alleged the solicitor appointed by the Law Society of Scotland to prosecute Murray before the Discipline Tribunal may have had a professional relationship with the very same solicitor he was supposed to be prosecuting. The details of what can only be described as a serious conflict of interest between the Law Society’s prosecution of Murray and the accused solicitor only came to light after a secret internal investigation at the Law Society, which is rumoured to have been given contradicting accounts by those involved in prosecuting Murray at the SSDT..
Philip Yelland, Director of Regulation at the Law Society of Scotland & in charge of Client Relations for the past 20 years. The Law Society of Scotland’s Philip Yelland who has been in charge of regulating solicitors for the past TWENTY YEARS, a now notorious two decades which have seem some of the worst scandals involving crooked lawyers in Scotland, wrote to Mr McKechnie, admitting : “Whilst you are quite correct in indicating that the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal considered specifically the failure of the part of Mr Murray to implement the decision made by the Law Society about the inadequate professional service you had received the written decision which would have allowed the Society to take steps to deal with the matter was not issued in December 2009 but was in fact issued by the Tribunal some months later. I should clarify that is normal practice in terms of the Tribunal and that following on from the issuing of the written findings there is a short period of appeal available.”
“What the Tribunal issues under Section 53C of the 1980 Act is the equivalent of a decree and there is therefore no reason to require service of that document on Mr Murray before consideration can be given to enforcement proceedings. As you are aware the prosecution of Mr Murray for alleged professional misconduct was continuing at that point and it is fair to say that immediate action was not taken to enforce the Section 53C order. The Society’s Fiscal however did at that point in time make some general enquiries about the enforcement of the Tribunals’ decision.”
“The challenge around the question of enforcement arises because of the fact that Mr Murray is now resident in Italy. So far as the Law Society of Scotland is aware Mr Murray is not resident in Scotland. Neither does Mr Murray have any assets in Scotland so far as the Law Society is aware.”
“That means that any enforcement proceedings would need to take place in Italy and from previous experience of other solicitors resident abroad the Society has had to look very carefully about the approach to take because of the difficulties arising both in terms of process and procedure and potential cost. That said on Thursday 19 January at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, the Society successfully served a charge on Mr Murray which opens up the possibility of other proceedings. However those will not instantly resolve outstanding matters. Accordingly I have prepared a paper to go to the Society’s Client Care Sub Committee in relation to the enforcement of this order. The reason that I am doing this is that the practicalities of endeavouring to enforce the order are extremely difficult. They are also costly.”
Prosecutors wrote to the solicitor’s victim admitting serious crimes had occurred yet they dropped the charges. The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service have also come in for stinging criticism in their failure to prosecute the solicitor over the fraud allegations after he was reported to Police by clients who had their money taken by Murray, and although Police did arrest the solicitor over the allegations, twice, the Crown Office came to a cosy arrangement with the Law Society of Scotland who were supposed to act but instead allowed the one time lawyer to slip away to Italy. The Procurator Fiscal’s Office in Stirling wrote to Mr McKechnie, stating : “A decision was taken by the Crown Office to take no further proceedings in this case: this decision was not taken lightly as we realise the seriousness of this crime.” Further attempts to gain further information relating to the refusal to prosecute the lawyer have failed, after the Crown Office refused to release any of the papers it held on Murray, raising suspicions of yet another cover up where the Lord Advocate’s team have taken decisions not to prosecute a colleague from the legal profession.
However, investigations now being carried out by independent law journalists into the Thomas Murray crooked lawyer scandal have now revealed the involvement of a prominent Scottish Sheriff in Murray’s sequestration which dates back as far as 2001, and allegations surrounding the fraudulent use of cheque books belonging to a building company and other activity which may warrant a criminal investigation. More details on these new revelations will follow in further articles.
A friend of Mr McKechnie, one of the solicitor’s victims who lost tens of thousands of pounds due to Murray’s actions, spoke to Diary of Injustice today. The friend said it was clear the Law Society and the legal establishment have gone out of their way to avoid taking any substantive action against Murray, branding their “feeble efforts to prosecute the solicitor” as little more than “an attempt to pervert the course of justice.”
He said : “The Law Society has ignored the SSDT’s Legal Order for enforcement to demand payment of erroneously taken money as fees plus the maximum compensation allowable under law, despite the Society having around a dozen opportunities to do so face to face with Mr Murray. He [Tom Murray] should be arrested on 23rd February, when he appears at the Court of Session”
Mr McKechnie’s health has suffered significantly as a result of dealings with Mr Murray and the situation has been made much worse by the Law Society’s failure to resolve the matter. However, Mr McKechnie is now being assisted by his local msp, Keith Brown (SNP) who is also the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister.
The Sunday Mail reports :
Feb 12 2012 Exclusive by Russell Findlay, Sunday Mail
A LAWYER accused of stealing a client’s cash dodged paying compensation by quitting Scotland for Italy. Tom Murray is holed up in the town of Lucca in Tuscany after watchdogs did not pursue allegations that he embezzled £18,000 from a client.
Murray, 49, has three times been found guilty of professional misconduct by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal but never struck off. One victim, Neil McKechnie, 43, has accused the legal establishment of protecting Murray.
Murray was arrested by fraud squad detectives in 2007 over claims he stole more than £18,000 from Neil. Weeks later, he was arrested again for allegedly trying to flee the country. But charges were dropped after the Crown Office agreed that the Law Society should take action.
Following the decision, Helen Bruce, of the Crown’s victim unit, wrote to Neil, stating: “This decision was not taken lightly as we realise the seriousness of this crime.” Neil, from Dunblane, said: “Anyone with the misfortune of being the victim of a lawyer should realise that self-regulation is self-protection.” In 1999 Murray was accused of ripping off Stuart Usher, who later founded pressure group Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers.
It took six years for the SSDT to rule Murray “acted dishonestly” and “deceived” Stuart by charging £3500 for work which was not done. Murray was ordered to work under supervision for three years. He was back before the SSDT later in 2005 for concealing his 2001 bankruptcy from a German client. The SSDT found him guilty of “misrepresentation, deception and misleading the client” and suspended him for five years.
Murray faced a third SSDT hearing in 2009 in relation to Neil’s complaints. He was found guilty of ignoring an earlier order to repay Neil £3049 fees and £1000 compensation. But the more serious accusation of the £18,000 embezzlement was abandoned. Last month the Law Society’s Philip Yelland wrote to Neil, stating: “The challenge around the question of enforcement arises because Mr Murray is now resident in Italy.”
Murray, who has worked in Dundee, Glasgow and Stirling, and his partner Linda Kilgour rent a £750-a-week apartment near Lucca. The lawyer has hit back against his former client with allegations of harassment. He served a writ demanding £15,000 damages from Neil. But Neil claimed he was medically unfit to defend himself so Murray won by default.
Neil said: “I have suffered serious illness as a result of my dealings with this man. I am now a 22st recluse with depression and diabetes.”