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Lawyer who got fraudulent loans for developer pal escapes jail

By Michael Donnelly

Published 30/04/2015

Michael Robin Burns
Michael Robin Burns

A former solicitor who lied to three banks to obtain loans for a businessman friend has escaped jail after his two-year sentence was adjourned for three years.

Disgraced solicitor Michael Robin Burns was told by Belfast Crown Court judge Mr Justice Weir that his was "one of those exceptional cases where, although a prison sentence is required, and richly deserved, it should not take effect immediately".

Mr Justice Weir said he could not fathom why a man of 50-year-old Burns' training and background should give undertakings to three banks knowing that they were "simply a lie", and in circumstances where he stood to personally gain nothing financially.

The judge said Burns was "in short a ruined man without prospect of recovery" in the near future, whose crimes were elevated more serious because he was a solicitor, bringing not only disgrace and shame on himself, but also on his former beleaguered legal colleagues.

Burns, from Skeagh Road, Dromara, pleaded guilty to nine charges of fraud by providing solicitor undertakings to three banks guaranteeing funds for a development group of companies headed by a friend, Trevor McClintock.

McClintock (40) from Upper Malone Road, Belfast, who admitted five fraud charges involving the development companies known as the Wellington Group, will be sentenced next month.

Mr Justice Weir said that Burns had become a non-executive, non-remunerated director of the Wellington Group, operated by McClintock, a member and friend of his church, a charismatic, ambitious and successful developer.

However, when in 2008 the property market turned dramatically, McClintock, like others, was caught with a number of property deals without the necessary funds to complete them. In order to do so, he needed interim, or bridging loans.

"This is where you came in," Mr Justice Weir told Burns, who as a solicitor, was able to provide undertakings to the banks, on nine different occasions, that the monies were available, or under the control of his firm of solicitors.

"But there was nothing to back the undertakings up, which you well knew," added Mr Justice Weir, who initially told Burns: "Your undertaking was simply a lie".

The monies lost by the banks, said the judge, had either been met by McClintock or the insurers of the Law Society, although it remained to be seen if the developer may yet meet some if not all of the claims they have paid out.

Mr Justice Weir said the public must be able to rely on the undertakings of solicitors without which the commerical business of the courts would be disrupted.

The standing of his former legal colleagues, he said, had been reduced and his actions also brought shame, and tarnished the reputation of his former professionals.

However, Mr Justice Weir said what remained "unfathomable" was why Burns should have offended in the way he did. This "lack of comprehension", added the judge, was shared by those in the probation service, who reported on him.

Mr Justice Weir said that his "inability to understand" Burns' actions were added to by the bundle of impressive character references supplied and the fact that Burns got nothing, and was to receive nothing, from helping to "prop up his (McClintock's) collasping property edifice".

The only explanation, said the judge, came from his defence QC Brett Lockhart, who described "your actions as irrational".

Belfast Telegraph

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