Lawyers

Lawyer in Prestwich to face watchdog over witness stress claims – Bury Occasions

A LAWYER is set to face her professional watchdog amid claims she threatened a witness that she would expose her to benefit fraud allegations.

Gillian Walker, who was a director at Opes Law, which used to trade in Prestwich but later moved to Greenfield in Oldham, is also accused of encouraging one of her clients to report the same woman for benefit fraud, to discourage her from giving evidence in a case.

Walker, 51, is set to face a fitness to practice hearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) at a later date.

But one of her business partners at the former Windsor Road, Prestwich firm, John William Duncombe, 62, has already appeared before the SDT.

He has been suspended for 12 months after coming to an agreed outcome with the disciplinary body, over what are believed to be related allegations.

Duncombe will not be allowed, after his suspension expires, to be a sole practitioner for three years, or be part of a limited liability partnership or legal disciplinary practice.

The SDT has also ruled he cannot hold or receive client money or be a signatory to any client account for the same period of time.

Any future employer must also be notified of the sanctions before he takes up a position with them in the future.

No further details have been released about Duncombe’s wrongdoing but a ruling is expected to be published by the tribunal later.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority has confirmed there are four other main allegations concerning Walker, alongside the benefit fraud matter.

She is said to have failed to gain SRA approval for the managerial role at Opes, between dates in April 2016 and May 2017.

And Walker is also accused of failing to gain approval for her post from the same regulator, as a director owning share capital, between dates in October 2016 and May 2017.

A further allegations centres on her ‘causing or allowing’ a misleading signed parental indemnity form to be sent to solicitors acting for an insurer, purporting to ay a settlement had been reached, where none had been agreed.

The sixth matter to be determined says she failed to notify clients of details of fee-sharing arrangements. No date has yet been fixed for her hearing.

An SRA spokesman said: “The allegations are subject to a hearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and are as yet unproven.”

Opes Law, which had listed both Walker and Duncombe as previous directors, went into liquidation in the spring of 2018, owing £236,000 to creditors.

One of the main creditors was Liverpool-based MedAssist, which had an £189,000 bill outstanding, but Failsworth firm UK Medico Legal was also owed £4,100. Bury Council was also owed £9,142 and HM Revnue and Customs had claims for more than £22,600 in unpaid VAT, corporation tax and PAYE.

Walker herself was said to have been owed £36,100 when the firm went under. Assets of more than £109,000 were found by Leeds-based administrators Chamberlain and Co to offset some of the debts.

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