Potters Bar solicitor stole more than £340,000 from dementia patient

Stephen Acres, 58, from Watford, defrauded a dementia patient of more than £340,000 when he was a solicitor in Potters Bar

Stephen Acres, 58, from Watford, defrauded a dementia patient of more than £340,000 when he was a solicitor in Potters Bar. He was found guilty of 11 charges related to fraud at St Albans Crown Court - Credit: Danny Loo

A Potters Bar solicitor defrauded a client in her 80s of more than £340,000.

Stephen Acres, who is from Watford but worked at a firm in Potters Bar, took an additional £225,000 after selling a house belonging to the victim, who had dementia.

He was sentenced to a total of six years at Huntingdon Law Court on Thursday, May 5.

Judge Philip Grey told Acres that he was "entirely motivated" by his own needs with little concern for the victim, and said that the 58-year-old fraudster should serve half his sentence in custody.

Acres was a joint executor for the affairs of one of his clients due to health concerns, a role which he shared with the client's relative.

Huntingdon Law Courts, where Stephen Acres, 58, from Watford, was sentenced to six years

Huntingdon Law Courts, where Stephen Acres, 58, from Watford, was sentenced to six years, half of which should be spent in custody - Credit: Archant

In 2013, the relative died, and Acres assumed control over bank account belonging to his victim.

As an executor, the victim's bank issued Acres with a debit card, which he used to withdraw more than £340,000 between 2013 and 2016.

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He spent the cash on restaurants, petrol and consumer goods which were of no benefit to the victim.

He also transferred money into his own bank account, and into the bank account of another person which was funnelled back to him.

Acre's dealings came to light when he paid off a personal debt to another solicitor using a cheque from the victim's bank account.

The fraudster claimed it was an error, but the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) launched an investigation.

Two years after Acres began defrauding his client, in 2015, the proceeds of sale from the victims house were transferred to an unknown bank account.

The SRA made further enquiries, and questioned other payments which were made from the victim's bank account.

In 2016, a court which can rule on property and financial affairs of people with reduced mental capacity - the Court of Protection - stripped Acres of his executor status.

A new firm of solicitors was appointed to look after the victim's belongings.

Acres was declared bankrupt in the same year, in August.

By 2017, the SRA concluded that Acres did defraud the victim of a large sum of money.

Trade magazine Legal Futures reported at the time that the SRA ordered Acres to pay costs of £70,000.

"This was of the utmost gravity; misconduct did not get much worse than this," the SRA tribunal concluded.

They uncovered that along with the £340,000 he withdrew from the victim's bank account, he also defrauded his client of £225,000 through the house sale.

He was struck off the roll of solicitors and ordered to pay costs, and the SRA referred the case to Hertfordshire Police's Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit.

Officers established that Acre's former partner benefitted from the £225,000 house sale, but that the money was eventually funnelled back to Acres.

He pleaded guilty before trial to stealing £225,000 from the victim through the house sale, creating a false Deed of Variation to make it appear that the victim gave him consent.

Acres denied stealing the other money, but was found guilty of 11 charges related to the incident at St Albans Crown Court.

Detective Constable Liz Heath, of the police's Serious Fraud and Cyber Unit, investigated Acres' case.

She said: "Stephen Acres was trusted to safeguard the finances of a vulnerable and elderly woman suffering with dementia.

"However, once the other attorney passed away, it gave Acres free access to the victim’s account to use it as though it were his own.

"He stole large sums of money from her, in order to pay off debts as well as towards a lifestyle, and despite claiming to have the intention of paying it back, he made no attempts to do so.

"He just continued to spend the money of an elderly woman, who had worked hard her whole life, and had believed he was there to do the right thing by her."

Hertfordshire Police said anybody concerned about fraud should contact the police on 101 for advice.

Alternatively, victims or people with concerns can contact officers online: https://www.herts.police.uk/