Paralegal who conned clients to fund lavish lifestyle must sell designer gear

A paralegal who conned more than £140,000 from vulnerable clients has been ordered to sell the designer shoes and handbags she bought to repay some of her debt.

Monday, 15th August 2016, 3:44 pm
Updated Thursday, 25th August 2016, 7:13 pm

Nicola Roach (35) and her sister, lawyer Kimberley Bridge (44) stole more than £960,000 from legal firm SFN Solicitors in Burnley where Bridge was a partner.

But as Bridge ploughed the money into the struggling business, Roach splashed out on 12 pairs of £700 Laboutin shoes, an £1,800 Victoria Beckham dress and several designer handbags and watches.

The brazen legal assistant even had parcels delivered to her workplace, as she stole from the coffers to support her life of luxury.

Now Judge Christopher Cornwall has ruled Roach must sell her designer goods to pay back their estimated value of £6,227.

Failure to do so will result in three months behind bars for the legal assistant who pleaded guilty to £141,741 theft.

At a proceeds of crime hearing at Preston Crown Court, Bridge, appeared in the dock as the court heard she has been struck off as a lawyer and is facing bankruptcy proceedings.

Proceeds of crime proceedings were discontinued against the disgraced solicitor after the court heard she had no assets to recover.

Roach, of Bramley Avenue, Burnley, did not appear at court due to ill health.

At her sentencing hearing in March the court heard she was undergoing treatment for clear cell sarcoma and had to have part of her leg amputated.

Andrew West, prosecuting at an earlier hearing, said: “The motive for Nicola Roach’s criminality seems simply she wanted to have a lavish lifestyle and so she too falsified client account records to achieve this.”

One family from Padiham lost out on £140,000 inheritance which was left to two children following the death of their mother.

Bridge even fleeced her best friend out of the stamp duty on her house after agreeing to take on the conveyancing.

Bridge and Roach were arrested in November 2013 when an investigation by the Solictors’ Regulation Authority found a number of irregularities.

While Bridge was found to be living a modest life, a search of Roach’s home uncovered Tag Heur watches, Dior bags and accessories and dozens of pairs of designer shoes stashed in a wardrobe.

Bridge, of Cumbrian Way, Burnley, was jailed for 40 months in October 2015 after admitting fraud and false accounting of £961,973.

Judge Cornwall said: “No sentence of this court can reflect the full extent and misery you have caused to others.

“At the heart of this case lies a grievous and terrible breach of mistrust that was persisted in for a good six years.

“These were thoroughly decent people who were entitled to think they could trust their solicitor with their money.”

In March, Roach was handed a 15 month sentence suspended for two years.

Det. Sgt Nick Hodgeson, from Lancashire Police, said: “The public rightly expect that solicitors and those in positions of trust should uphold the highest standards of honesty and integrity. Her fraudulent activities have been an extreme breach of that trust.”