Designer shopping spree solicitor is spared jail

A paralegal who splashed out thousands of pounds of her clients' money to spend on designer shoes and handbags has walked free from court.

Friday, 4th March 2016, 9:15 am
Updated Friday, 4th March 2016, 10:16 am
Preston Crown Court

Nicola Roach (38) and her sister Kimberley Bridge (44) stole almost £1m. from bereaved families and businessmen in their roles as solicitor and paralegal at Burnley’s SFN solicitors.

But while Bridge tried to keep the family run firm of solicitors afloat, her sister was siphoning off cash to splurge on 12 pairs of £700 Christian Laboutin shoes, designer clothes and flash handbags.

On one occasion, the paralegal had taken delivery of an £1,800 Victoria Beckham dress at the office where she worked, Preston Crown Court heard.

She even stole from her best friend, when she agreed to pay the stamp duty on her home - which the firm had been instructed to carry out the conveyancing on - but instead pocketed the cash.

Susan Harrison, from Clitheroe, often saw her friend dressed in the latest designer shoes and dresses - but only realised she had paid for them when the Inland Revenue started making demands for the stamp duty she owed.

Officers from Lancashire Police raided Roach’s home in Bramley Avenue, Burnley, as part of an investigation into fraud and false accounting at the solicitor’s.

They discovered dozens of pairs of Christian Laboutin shoes, Tag Heuer watches worth up to £800 and Dior and Chanel handbags and accessories.

Roach pleaded guilty to theft of £141,741 while her sister Bridge admitted theft, false accounting and fraud of £961,973.

Their victims - who were from across Accrington, Burnley and Pendle - were left facing financial ruin after Bridge moved money between accounts to cover up the company’s dwindling finances.

By the time the firm went out of business it had debts of £896,000, the court heard.

One of their victims, a family from Padiham, discovered they had lost £140,000 inheritance left to two daughters following the death of their mother.

Another victim, a pensioner from Accrington, lost £50,000 from his mother’s estate after transferring it to a different account on instruction.

Roach appeared at Preston Crown Court to be sentenced.

The court heard she suffered from a rare form of cancer.

Judge Christopher Cornwall, sentencing, handed Roach a 15 month sentence suspended for two years.

In October he jailed Bridge for 40 months.

Speaking after the sentence, Det. Sgt Nick Hodgeson, of Lancashire Police, said: “The public rightly expect those who are employed by a legal practice to uphold the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

“I hope today’s result will reassure people that such matters will be investigated, regardless of time.

I hope the victims can move forward with their lives.”