Conveyancers held accountable after £470,000 is sprited away to offshore account

A Judge has held Conveyancers on both sides of the transaction accountable after nearly half a million pounds was paid to fraudsters claiming to be the rightful owner of a property.

According to court documents, a man engaged the services of A’Court & Co Solicitors (ACC) to act on his behalf in the sale of a property owned by a Nicholas Robert Dawson in September 2012.

The so-called Mr Dawson stated that he was not living at the property, which had been given to him by his father in 2008. Mr Dawson wanted to sell the property quickly because he needed the money. Mr Dawson then produced a forged British passport, an electricity bill, a water bill and a bank statement addressed to a Mr Dawson of Flat 1, 14 Market Street, in Maidenhead.

Mr Dawson then stated he was applying to the Land Registry for Office Copy Entries for the property. Those office copies showed the proprietor to be a “NICHOLAS ROBERT DAWSON of 35 Merton Hall Gardens, Wimbledon … and of 163 Huntingdon Road, Cambridge”. None of the utility bills provided had this address in Cambridge.

According to presiding HHJ Pelling QC: “It is common ground, but in any event I find, that had ACC attempted to contact Mr Dawson at the Cambridge address they would have made contact with the real owner and the fraud would have failed”

One sale through solicitors Peacocks had already fallen through after Mr Dawson stated he was working in Abu Dhabi but could offer no proof of his employment. “other than because he apparently thought it was a delaying tactic but where the information could have been provided almost immediately”.

By late October, the claimant Hurry Purrunsing had agreed the sale price of £470,000 through estate agents Mark Ashley & Co.

The claimant funded the purchase in the end from sums raised by him from a variety of sources but not from lending secured on the property since a survey could not be completed within the time frame set by Mr Dawson. The purchase money was transferred by Purchasing conveyancers House Owners Conveyancers (HOC) to vendors ACC and on to an account at a bank in Dubai on the instructions of Mr Dawson. The fraud came to light and the claimant was never registered as proprietor of the property.

HHJ Pelling QC said: “It was the responsibility of ACC to carry out risk-based due diligence. The reality is that ACC made no serious attempt to do so.

“HOC were acting for the claimant. It was under a professional obligation to ensure that the claimant proceeded at all times on an informed basis. HOC had asked a question for the purpose of satisfying itself that Mr Dawson was entitled to sell the property. The answer that it received could not reasonably have satisfied HOC on that issue and the unsatisfactory nature of the response ought reasonably then to have been reported to the client in the terms set out earlier in this judgement.

“Given the speed with which Mr Dawson was insisting that the transaction proceed, and the exceptional arrangements that the claimant was having to make in order to finance the transaction, in my judgement it is more probable than not that the claimant would have either withdrawn from the transaction or perhaps more likely would have declined to proceed without further information being obtained by ACC from the vendor that demonstrated the relevant link. Such information ought to have been capable of being provided without either difficulty or delay if Mr Dawson was who he claimed to be.

“Having regard to relative causal potency as well as comparative blameworthiness by reference to the facts and matters referred above leads me to conclude that HOC and ACC must each bear equal responsibility for the loss.”

The full case can be read here.

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