Crooked solicitor swindled £500,000 from clients
A shamed solicitor has been warned he faces the prospect of being jailed for fleecing clients of almost £500,000.
The warning, from Mr Justice Hart, came as a sentence on 63-year-old Alan George Nurse, who has already paid back the money plus an additional £100,000, was adjourned for a week.
The Belfast Crown Court judge told Nurse, from Ardnavalley Park, Comber, that while he was being released on bail he had to “make it clear to you that does not mean that you will escape a custodial sentence”.
Nurse, a one-time partner in one of Northern Ireland’s top legal firms of Nurse and Jones, pleaded guilty last year to a total of 14 charges involving theft, forgery, and false accounting between January 1997 and August 2002.
In all Nurse, who first started practicing as a solicitor in 1971, admitted one charge of theft involving a total of £481,465.24, one charge of fraud involving a forged loan for £17,000, and 12 charges of false accounting involving client's accounts.
In defence the court heard that Nurse, a father-of-two, has had to deal with the “deep sense of shame” since the offences first came to light in 2002.
Prosecuting QC Paul Ramsey revealed that the initial firm of Nurse and Jones was wound up in the late 1990s after accounting irregularities.
Unable to practice alone, by order of the Law Society, Nurse took on one partner, before changing to another, although still operating under the name of Nurse and Jones.
Mr Ramsey said that suspicions were voiced by the firm's bookkeeper in 2001 after returning from holiday and finding irregularities in the client account books.
By January the following year the matter was referred to the Law Society who carried out a number of inspections until finally in July 2002 ‘power of attorney' was signed over to the Society who engaged a firm of forensic accountants.
They produced three separate reports, said Mr Ramsey, and in January 2003 the Law Society referred the matter to the police, who up until November 2005 interviewed Nurse on 16 occasions.
Defence QC Arthur Harvey said that as a solicitor Nurse “took money he wasn't entitled to... he forged a document to cover his tracks”.
“He has accepted from the very first approach that he is responsible,” said Mr Harvey who added that Nurse has an “overwhelming sense of shame, and has divested himself of any asset he has ever had”.