Lawyer jailed for stealing legacies

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A LAWYER with a string of illustrious clients, including Dodi Fayed and Princess Michael of Kent, was sentenced to three years in prison at the Old Bailey yesterday for plundering legacies to orphaned children and charities.

Michael Palmer, a former senior partner of a West End law firm with links to Britain's overseas security service, MI6, was involved in a pounds 250,000 conspiracy to defraud and steal funds from two estates he controlled as an executor.

The first arose from the "tragic deaths" of Jane and David Elton, who left two children in the care of two legal guardians, said Anthony Hacking QC, for the prosecution. Palmer, 61, was godfather to one of the children. The second plundered estate, left by his friend Geoffrey Roberts, who died in 1994, made bequests to various Aids charities. They had yet to receive a penny, the court heard.

"These were no spur-of-the-moment frauds, but showed protracted dishonesty by sophisticated methods to disguise what was going on," Mr Hacking said. Palmer got into financial difficulties because of his lifestyle and because his firm was not doing well. His debts fluctuated from pounds 395,000 to pounds 487,000 over the period.

Palmer had admitted 17 charges of conspiracy to defraud, theft, forgery and false accounting involving over pounds 250,000 from 1992 to 1996.

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) decided last month not to proceed with other charges which Palmer had denied.Counsel for the prosecution denied yesterday the charges had been reduced to suppress evidence relating to Palmer's alleged connection with MI6.

Palmer is understood to be linked to the security services through a former client, Jamshid Hashemi Naini, an MI6 go-between in the Middle East. It is believed that Palmer became involved in the world of espionage while advising Naini on his companies in Iran.

Mr Justice Collins told Palmer: ""It is always a tragedy to see someone like yourself in the dock admitting serious dishonesty. Solicitors are in a special position as far as the public is concerned - they expect to be able to trust them.

"The other side of the coin is that, when it comes to punishment, the court recognises that you have lost everything. You will never be able to practise as a solicitor again."

t Complaints against solicitors have reached an all-time high, according to a new report. But 80 per cent of all new complaints were generated by a 20 per cent "hard core" of problem solicitors.

The figures, revealed in the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors' annual report today, show that last year 31,672 complaints were made, compared with 23,453 in 1996.

Law, Review, page 14