A LLANGWM solicitor, who massively overcharged the estates of clients, netting hundred of thousands of pounds, has been struck off by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT).

Edgar Stephen George Thomas, sole practitioner of Steve Thomas & Co, who represented himself, was described by the SDT as having “blatantly abused his position of trust in the most despicable way”.

At the recent SDT tribunal it was ordered that Thomas, a solicitor since 1991 who was declared bankrupt in February 2016, should be struck off and pay £76,000 in costs.

Thomas’s practice, Steve Thomas & Co of Deerland Chambers, Deerland Road, was shut down in 2014, and he had not worked since, the tribunal heard.

The tribunal heard the issue of overcharging had been raised by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

In SRA v Thomas, the tribunal heard Thomas had charged one client 50 times the estimate of £2,000 and another £100,000 in fees on a probate matter.

The SDT said that in some instances, the fees charged as a percentage of the value of the estate were “so large as to be completely disproportionate” and this type of excessive overcharging was “simply a disgrace”.

In five separate cases dating from October 2005-February 2014, where Thomas had acted as executor, or on behalf of executors in probate matters; some £389,900.67, including VAT, had been transferred from estates with a total value of approximately £1.9m.

Some 233 transfers of money had been made over that period.

Of estimated costs of £30,000 for three of the matters, some £292,000 was charged.

The tribunal heard that a second investigation focussing on probate matters and one compulsory purchase compensation claim, saw 158 transfers of money without clients’ knowledge from 2011-2014, totalling £587,779 including VAT.

The transfers varied from £29,000 to more than £150,000, including VAT.

In one case involving an estate valued at £146,000, Mr Thomas provided an estimate of £2,000, but went on to charge £103,000, plus VAT.

On an estate of approximately £258,000, £94,250 was transferred.

An estate of £583,000 saw £130,879 including VAT transferred.

£24,700 plus VAT was transferred from an estate of £303,600; with an estate of £295,000 having £33,750 plus VAT transferred.

In another matter, 50 transfers totalling £150,600 were made between December 16, 2011 and September 6, 2013.

During the tribunal, Thomas asked for an adjournment, saying there was the possibility of further proceedings against him, and felt the publication in the local press of his misconduct would prevent him receiving a fair hearing.

However, the tribunal heard that no charges had been laid to date, and it was not convinced the proceedings would “muddy the waters of justice”.

Thomas denied that he had in any way acted dishonestly; the amounts charged and funds transferred were properly due, with reference to the work undertaken and the amounts charged.

Despite a lack of paperwork explaining bills, Thomas said they were an accurate reflection of the work that had been done.

Thomas knew he was not entitled to take, but did take, client funds without their knowledge.

The tribunal heard: “This was not just a conventional case of overcharging by padding out a bill. This was a case of fraud and theft. The respondent had possession and control over large amounts of money and under the guise of charging clients legal fees, he had effectively stolen their money.

“The amounts charged by the respondent bore no resemblance at all to the work undertaken. There had been massive overcharging on a large scale.”

He was accused of failing to provide adequate or accurate information to clients about likely overall costs at the start of matters, failing to provide adequate or accurate information to clients about the basis of calculation of costs, and transferring fees from client to office account outside the Solicitors Accounts Rules.

It was further alleged that he had provided misleading information to a client as to the reasons for delay in distributing proceeds and that he had acted dishonestly.

Finding him guilty of all the offences, the SDT described Mr Thomas as an experienced solicitor, who disregarded regulations put in place to protect his clients.

“He utilised the funds in his client account in such a way as to demonstrate that he did not believe that he was accountable to his clients. His actions were planned and calculated. Of most concern was the blatant dishonesty he had displayed in abusing his position of trust.”