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BREACH OF TRUST : Citizens Advice forced to investigate taxpayer funded Hamilton CAB lawyer who sent clients to suspended crooked solicitor

08 Jun

O'Donnell MontageCitizens Advice investigate their own lawyer who sent clients to a serial crooked solicitor. INFORMATION contained in complaints made by consumers to Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau regarding Gilbert Anderson, now suggest in the clearest possible terms the lawyer who works for Hamilton CAB as a taxpayer funded in-court adviser referred vulnerable clients to a crooked law firm & serially crooked solicitor John G O’Donnell, who ended up posing as a dead colleague to clients. The terms of the complaints as seen by Diary of Injustice raise serious questions over initial denials of impropriety by Citizens Advice, who have now been forced to investigate Anderson after receiving complaints from people whose legal affairs and lives have been devastated by referrals to rogue solicitors, now suspected of planning to fleece clients of their property & assets.

Details of further allegations made against Gilbert Anderson featured in a recent report in the Sunday Mail newspaper, in a follow up to their earlier report which Diary of Injustice featured here : Crooked lawyer impersonates DEAD COLLEAGUE to lure clients in fraud scam as Law Society of Scotland’s self regulation of solicitors fails yet again

The latest from the Sunday Mail :

Gilbert Anderson lawyer gets paid by us refers to O'Donnell Sunday Mail 20 May 2012Citizens Advice Bureau bosses launch probe into one of their lawyers

May 20 2012 By Russell Findlay

A LAWYER who works for the Citizens Advice Bureau is being probed after it’s claimed he targeted vulnerable clients for a crooked legal firm.

Margaret Sneddon, 48, was involved in a rent dispute when she turned to CAB lawyer Gilbert Anderson, who is based at Hamilton Sheriff Court and whose salary is paid by taxpayers.

But the ex-Royal Marine sent her and a friend into the clutches of John O’Donnell, who didn’t have a practising certificate. O’Donnell broke the law by acting as lawyer for the firm Davidson Fraser.

Margaret, from Lanark, said: “Anderson told us that he was a silent partner in Davidson Fraser and he phoned them from his office to make an appointment for us. O’Donnell came to meet us and took on our cases. We had no idea that he was banned from practising.”

Last month, we told how Elizabeth Campbell was also referred to Davidson Fraser by 53-year-old Anderson. He was listed as an associate on a Davidson Fraser letter but he claimed that he merely provided Elizabeth with a list of lawyers.

She said: “That is untrue, there was no list. I’m furious that the CAB seem to have taken the view that Anderson has done nothing wrong.”

Elizabeth and another client, Joan Hoblyn, have been interviewed by Elaine Motion who is probing Davidson Fraser on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland. Margaret and her friend also plan to complain to the CAB.

Anderson declined to comment.

A CAB spokesman said: “It’s vital that the public have full confidence in the impartiality of the CAB service and we take allegations of this nature very seriously.”

Since the Sunday Mail story, letters to Mushtaq Ahmed, Chairman, Hamilton CAB have been passed to Diary of Injustice which detail a catalogue of complaints against Mr Anderson and also allege there has been a cover up at Citizens Advice over the affair, which legal insiders say has potential to rock the costly in-court adviser scheme funded by the Scottish Legal Aid Board.

One letter of complaint which has now been submitted to Hamilton Citizens Advice by client Elizabeth Cambpell, an elderly widow, whose legal affairs have been entirely ruined by the actions of Gilbert Anderson and John G O’Donnell reveal discrepancies in claims from Citizens Advice and the Scottish Legal Aid Board that there was no case to answer regarding Anderson’s actions.

In the letter to Mushtaq Ahmed, Mrs Campbell said in reference to earlier reports in the media, that “Mr Anderson is quoted as saying he did not refer me to Colin Davidson, but merely gave me a list of Solicitors. It seems Hamilton CAB Manager has investigated the matter (incidentally, without referring to me) and has given assurances to CAB’s Tony Hutson, and to SLAB, that Gilbert Anderson has done nothing wrong in this matter.”

The letter goes on to inform Hamilton CAB that Mrs Cambpell “could not have have got Davidson Fraser’s name from a list of Legal Aid Solicitors as they didn’t do Legal Aid.

Mrs Campbell goes on to detail a number of points regarding Mr Anderson’s referrals to the already struck off O’Donnell, who was posing as Colin Davidson, who has since died.

Mrs Campbell wrote : “On the Client Record Sheet produced by Mr Anderson (which I found in Davidson Fraser’s file) it clearly states on two separate occasions that he would endeavour to recommend a Legal Aid Solicitor to me. Also, on the back of this Client Record Sheet is a handwritten note “possibly in my mind a cash for Colin £3000”. I have enclosed a copy of this Record – the original is with Elaine Motion who is acting the the Law Society.”

“At the first meeting with GA he said it would be difficult to find a Solicitor who was experienced in “construction cases”. He did know a Solicitor who was currently working on such a case, Colin Davidson, who had a very sharp mind and “could think out of the box”, but unfortunately he was unable to do Legal Aid at present, but may in the future.l The other problem with Mr Davidson was he was an alcoholic, however his partner, John Fraser, also a very clever Solicitor, could back him up, should Mr Davidson fall off the wagon, so to speak. I was not very keen as I thought I had enough problems and it was left that GA would try to find me someone more suitable. “

“After several weeks, Gilbert Anderson told me he had exhausted the list of Legal Aid Solicitors and eventually, after the case had been put back several times and the Sheriff had spoken about expenses against me, and also two Small Claims cases, which had to be defended, were looming, I agreed to go to Colin Davidson of Davidson for a “consultation”. It was to cost no more than £500 as that was all I could afford. Gilbert Anderson duly made an appointment with Colin Davidson on 29 March 2011 and told me it would cost £200.00. He gave me directions and told me not to be put off by the office being so small.”

“I was devastated to discover, when two lots of Sheriff Officers arrived at my door, that Colin Davidson failed to defend them. He said it was a mistake – he had defended them and he would personally go to both courts to Recall the Decrees – two weeks later another two lots of Sheriff Officers arrive – Colin Davidson had lied again. “

“Tried contacting Law Society and SLCC – got nowhere – phoned Gilbert Anderson – going to visit Colin Davidson’s office – find out what was happening – if he couldn’t get satisfaction he was going to draft letter to Law Society for me – gave me private mobile number. I called at Colin Davidson’s office- secretary Janice said Gilbert Anderson was coming to office to go through my files and together they would sort Colin out – gave me her home telephone number. I remember wondering what GA’s involvement was with this firm. I phoned GA next day – he said nothing could be done – too late – and I would have lost both cases anyway.”

“At this time I was also attending CAB and I told them of my concerns about Colin Davidson and Gilbert Anderson they said it was very worrying, but if complained to Law Society I would have to sack Colin Davidson and then where would I be? I was also told that CAB Manager was aware of situation, and access to my financial information had been withheld from Gilbert Anderson.”

“I was becoming increasingly concerned about Colin Davidson’s identity – on numerous occasions Clients and staff were calling him “John” – he was signing letters “John” – another person was answering the phone and insisting he was Colin Davidson, but he obviously wasn’t – on one occasion, this “other person” asked me “are you the person Gilbert Anderson sent to us?”. I was given ridiculous excuses by Colin Davidson and Janice and told that there was only one Partner in the firm – Colin Davidson – I must be mistaken that Gilbert Anderson had told me about John Fraser.”

“I asked Gilbert Anderson about why people kept calling Colin Davidson “John” and voiced my other concerns about his identity and he said there was a reason for this which he was not prepared to divulge to me.”

“I have now discovered that the Solicitor to whom Gilbert Anderson sent me, was not in fact Colin Davidson, but a struck-off solicitor, John O’Donnell, who between them conspired to deceive clients – John O’Donnell lost his licence because he had over 20 cases of negligence proved against him and the insurance had to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds. The real Colin Davidson (whom I never met) has since died, and John O’Donnell has disappeared.

Prior to letters of complaint being sent to Hamilton CAB, Citizens Advice Scotland & the Scottish Legal Aid Board were asked for comment on the case.

Initially, both organisations denied there were any known problems with Gilbert Anderson.

Citizens Advice ScotlandCitizens Advice Scotland initially claimed Anderson made no recommendation to O’Donnell. An initial statement from a spokesperson for Citizens Advice Scotland claimed : “Gilbert Anderson did not refer any CAB clients to the individual you mention. What happened was that a CAB client asked for a list of practicing solicitors in the area, and he gave her such a list – which he obtained from the Law Society of Scotland website. The list included the company Davidson Fraser, among others. In supplying the client with this list, Mr Anderson did not specifically recommend she speak to any individuals working in any of those companies. He merely supplied her with the list. It was then entirely a matter for the client to decide which company to contact, if any. “

After the Sunday Mail published further allegations against Mr Anderson supplied by clients he referred to John O’Donnell, Citizens Advice Scotland released a statement to the paper claiming : “It is vital that the public have full confidence in the impartiality of the CAB service, and we take allegations of this nature very seriously. Given the seriousness of these allegations, Hamilton CAB is currently conducting a full investigation of this matter. Like all bureaux, they have robust mechanisms for investigating any reports of wrongdoing by any of their staff. However, it would obviously be helpful to that investigation if Hamilton CAB could have the full details of the allegations that have been made. As of today, no such complaint has been received by Hamilton CAB from any client.”

“If people have a complaint against an employee of a CAB, the proper procedure is to report that to the CAB manager. Hamilton CAB would ask that anyone who has any evidence to support these allegations would bring it forward to them, so their investigation can be as thorough as possible.”

slabScottish Legal Aid Board claimed they had been assured no breach of procedures at CAB. The Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) initial statement in reaction to the first report of Mr Anderson referring clients to O’Donnell, claimed : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board provides funding to Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau to deliver the Hamilton In-Court Advice Project based at Hamilton Sheriff Court. Mr Gilbert Anderson is employed as an In-Court Advice Service Manager by Hamilton CAB. The Board monitors the performance of the project, including checks that the project work focuses on the remit agreed by the Board. This includes onward referral or signposting of clients with problems that fall outwith the project remit. The Board expects project managers to ensure that individuals working within Board funded projects follow established procedures. Failure to properly manage could be a breach of the Board’s funding agreement.”Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau has assured us that there has been no such breach in relation to the procedures employed by Mr Anderson in this case.”

An updated release from SLAB, in response to further allegations against Mr Anderson, stated : “A spokesperson for the Scottish Legal Aid Board said: “The Board has contacted Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau, which has assured us that it takes this type of allegation very seriously and will investigate any complaints it receives.”

A new statement received from the Scottish Legal Aid Board in late May stated : “The Scottish Legal Aid Board provides funding to Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau to deliver the Hamilton In-Court Advice Project based at Hamilton Sheriff Court. We monitor the performance of the project and will continue to do so. Further to our earlier enquiries to the CAB regarding the initial allegations made about the project we have again followed up with the CAB management and sought assurance as to the steps that would be taken to deal with any complaints. At the time of our most recent enquiries there had been no complaints received by the CAB, but we have assurance from the CAB that should any complaint be received they will investigate it fully. Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau has assured us it takes this type of allegation very seriously and will inform us of any complaints it receives, the actions it would take and the outcome of any such investigation.”

Now that complaints have been received by Hamilton CAB & copied to SLAB, Diary of Injustice will follow this case and report ongoing events including any further disciplinary moves undertaken by the Law Society of Scotland & Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Anyone who has been a client of law firm Davidson Fraser, or John G O’Donnell, or those of you who may have been referred to law firms by Gilbert Anderson or any other in-court adviser working for Citizens Advice and now have problems with your legal affairs can contact Diary of Injustice via scottishlawreporters@gmail.com.

ONE OF OUR LAWYERS IS FIDDLING : LEGAL AID FUNDED IN-COURT ADVISER at CITIZEN’S ADVICE IS NOT A LAWYER CLAIM SLAB ?

SLAB CASWho to trust ? SLAB FOI response claimed no in-court advisers are NOT solicitors or paralegals. A Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Legal Aid Board by Diary of Injustice reveals the in-court adviser scheme, under which Gilbert Anderson is employed, costs taxpayers well over a quarter of a million pounds each year. SLAB stated in their FOI response : “There are 16 full or part-time staff either funded or employed by SLAB in courts across Scotland at a basic annual salary cost of £292.6k. None of these positions are filled by solicitors or paralegals. Potential employees of the Board are subject to a satisfactory recruitment vetting procedure including previous employers’ references and basic disclosure under Disclosure Scotland. If a solicitor were to be employed by the Board we conduct checks with the Law Society of Scotland, in relation to the status of the practising certificate, the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal and depending on the nature of the role require standard or enhance disclosure from Disclosure Scotland.”

However claims from SLAB that none of the positions are filled by solicitors or paralegals appear to fly in the face of Gilbert Anderson’s role at Hamilton CAB.

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