Corrupt Solicitor Jailed
11 July 2011
A Henley-on-Thames based solicitor is serving a 16 month prison sentence for abusing his professional position.
James Thorburn-Muirhead was sentenced on 29th June after a SOCA investigation revealed his links to a drug dealer, his involvement in the theft of clients’ monies and his failure to disclose information under the Suspicious Activity Reports regime.
SOCA’s initial interest was in Muirhead’s relationship with convicted drug trafficker Steven Smith and the suspicion that he was involved in laundering the proceeds of Smith’s criminal activity. However, the investigation soon uncovered other serious offences.
Muirhead had been operating as a sole proprietor solicitor, trading as Thorburn & Co in the affluent Oxfordshire town. Search warrants executed at his offices and home address in July 2007 resulted in the seizure of several hundred conveyancing files along with accounting records and computers. The evidence linked Muirhead with a drug trafficker, but also pointed to other criminality including the misappropriation of money from clients’ accounts.
In July 2009 Muirhead was charged with 10 counts of theft and false accounting, one count of money-laundering and one count of failing to disclose under the Proceeds of Crime Act. Following a plea bargain offered by his defence team with Muirhead pleading guilty to four counts of Theft and False Accounting and the one count of Failing to Disclose.
Muirhead’s benefit from criminal conduct was agreed at £196,198.00 and a Confiscation Order was made for the same amount, payable within 9 months. A two year default sentence will apply if he fails to meet that deadline, and he will still be liable to pay the sum. He was also ordered to pay a Compensation Order of £12,666.67 and will pay £25,000.00 towards prosecution costs.
Regional head of investigation for SOCA, Chris Farrimond, said “Muirhead was a professional in a position of trust which he abused for personal benefit. He was derelict in his legal obligations to his clients, regulators and to law enforcement. This case should be a deterrent to anyone in the regulated sector who may be tempted to work with criminals or turn a blind eye to criminality; the short term gains seem attractive, but the long term effects for your career and profession are anything but”.