Eight mistakes to avoid if you don’t want to get banged up

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Dedicated watchers of sadly-defunct (and completely realistic) BBC drama Silk will recall bent solicitor Mickey Joy’s cushy prison cell. For Mickey Joy, stone walls did not a prison make nor iron bars a cage, but rather an impressive library, cosy armchairs, a tasselled lampshade and an apparently limitless supply of full-fat milk.

The prospect of a restful few months with little to occupy you but good books and the occasional visit from a sympathetic barrister may be tempting. But though the BBC doubtless aims for rigorous realism in its set design, the reality is likely to feature a bit more in the way of concrete floors and tepid tea.

So here’s a few tips on how to avoid jail. If only some of these lawyers had taken note.

Don’t come over all Godfather

Proud of your family firm? As Don Corleone said, “A man who doesn’t spent time with his family can never be a real man.”

But it’s important not to get too carried away with the pride of a powerful family business, as a Welsh father-and-son firm discovered. Suspected of making witnesses offers they really couldn’t refuse, they spent two days in a cell and were later charged with witness intimidation. Happily, charges were dropped before anyone slept with the fishes (enough film quotes – Ed.)

Don’t try and dodge the taxman

Death, taxes, and an X-Factor Christmas single – the three grim constants of the human condition. So it was that Leeds solicitor Timothy Thomas Rogers’ attempt to defy HMRC was as doomed to failure as if he’d tried to dodge the Reaper himself.

Having carried out a number of tax frauds including filing false VAT claims, he was eventually caught out when he proved suspiciously reluctant to hand over his paperwork.

Don’t use your clients to fund your mid-life crisis

Solicitor Gareth Arnold can only be admired for not being averse to a crashing cliché. Enduring what we can only imagine was an absolutely epic mid-life crisis, he was convicted of stealing more than £200,000 from clients.

What could have compelled him to commit such an offence, you ask? Why, to buy a Jaguar (sigh) and a Mercedes (sigh), and to pay for cosmetic surgery for his girlfriend (SIGH). Enjoy your porridge, Gareth.

Don’t Break Bad like Saul Goodman

As Walter White would tell you, every career criminal needs a decent lawyer. Especially one with a gift for a snappy strapline (“Better call Saul!”).

But tempting as it may be to throw in your lot with a criminal gang (after all, on telly they always have much better suits), consider the fate of Oxford lawyer Graham Leather. Not only did he appear in court conspicuously badly-dressed (my dear, that anorak!), but he was jailed for four-and-a-half-years for helping a gang in a £1.5 million fraud case.

Don’t make like Walter Mitty

We’re all daydreamers at heart. Who has not gazed idly out of the office window, wondering if this is the day they receive that call from MI6, or a letter informing of an inherited Earldom in Ruritania?

For conman Amir Saleem, it wasn’t enough to pose as a barrister. He also claimed to be a neurosurgeon. He even represented one of his victims in court, before going on to fleece her of thousands of pounds.

Evidently an accomplished actor, perhaps his skills are being put to good use in the local prison’s dramatic society as he serves his four-year sentence.

Don’t be a drugs mule

A wholehearted dedication to the welfare of your clients is a laudable aim. But it’s important to know where to stop, as Scottish solicitor Blair Wilson discovered.

Coming to the end of a long and successful career (which as any reader of novels will know is a sure sign that things are about to go violently pear-shaped), he visited a client whilst clutching a bulging file (the paper kind, not the sort baked into fruitcakes).

On being asked to place it into the scanner, he remembered having left something in his car, and returned with the file notably thinner. The car was discovered to contain several thousand pounds’ worth of drugs.

Wilson’s working life has ended not with port-fuelled retirement dinner, but in the company of fellow criminals.

Don’t money launder

Obvious, you may well think. But a failure to comply with the identity obligations of the Proceeds of Crime act may lead you to share the fate of one solicitor and his (presumably very loyal) secretary, now serving substantial sentence for money laundering.

When Richard Housley was jailed at the Scottish High Court for £1.8 million in money laundering offences, it was the culmination of an eight-year operation with the strangely ebullient codename ‘Fizz’.

The SRA offered a beautifully po-faced postscript, urging solicitors confused about money laundering regulations to give their helpline a ring.

Don’t give in to air rage

Ah, the glamour of the successful lawyer, thinking nothing of flying from capital to capital in the name of truth and justice!

Alas for US lawyer Timothy Fassano, the opportunity to get roaring drunk on a flight to JFK airport proved too much for his constitution, and the flight was forced to ground at Dublin. Upon failing to turn up at court, he was found wandering the Dublin streets somewhat (as the court delicately put it) ‘the worse for wear’.

He was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment, and one can only hope the experience will benefit his liver. SP

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