Solicitors closed after complaints

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The Independent Online
A FIRM of solicitors criticised for its defence of a 13-year-old boy who was convicted of assault has been closed down. The Solicitors' Complaints Bureau confirmed last week that it had told Toppin and Co, of south London, to shut down 'to protect the interests of clients', but refused to say more.

The move comes six months after Nellie Fergus complained to the bureau about the way the firm had handled her son Ivan's defence. Last November he was sentenced to 15 months' youth custody for attacking a bank clerk after being identified by the victim. However, his appearance differed markedly from the description originally given by the clerk. Even the police officer who handled the case said he was surprised by the guilty verdict.

Ivan said that at the time of the attack he was with four schoolfriends several miles away at a leisure centre. Ken Williams, of Toppin and Co, interviewed only two of the friends. The police did not interview any of them.

At the trial, the defence barrister, brought in to replace a colleague at the last moment, decided not to call the alibi witnesses and two character witnesses. Mr Williams was not present because his father was dying.

Toppin and Co is also the subject of a complaint to the bureau from a man who was given a 10- year sentence for conspiring to throw acid in the face of his former girlfriend. Trevor Henry, 36, from south London, said that two character witnesses, one a pastor, should have been called to support his case. He also complained that the solicitors did not attempt to find another man who, he said, had a motive for the attack.

Speaking before the firm was shut down. Mr Williams said: 'Very late in the day we were given instructions about other people who might possibly have been responsible but the information was so sketchy and no one was prepared to come forward to give evidence to substantiate.' He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

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