Law Society of Scotland makes £780,000 payout to duped homebuyers

Court of Session Connor
The Court of Session

The Law Society of Scotland has made a £780,000 payout from its client protection fund to two homebuyers, 13 years after they were victims of a solicitor’s fraud which meant they did not own the Aberdeen flats they lived in, The Herald reports.

Sinclair Brebner and his neighbour Colin Torr found out in 2007 that their flats were actually owned by the trustee in bankruptcy of the seller, businessman David Pocock.

Before The Herald intervened in the matter the Law Society was said to be considering offering the pair the 2002 purchase price of the flats as compensation – about £280,000. This would have bankrupted them.

It has now paid the £650,000 market value of the properties as well as £130,000 in litigation costs.

A Law Society spokesperson said: “We realise this has been a long and difficult period for Mr Brebner who, through no fault of his own, was left without proper title to a property he bought in good faith.

“By working with him as well as his legal and political representatives, we are pleased to have ensured the value of the property has been reimbursed.”

Mr Brebner said: “I feel enormous relief that a resolution is progressing. However there are outstanding issues such as compensation for years of distress and health problems. A full independent enquiry into the case is needed.”

Mr Pocock, who was the real owner, falsified the title deeds to the flats by substituting the name of his company, Howemoss, for his own name.

Registers of Scotland discovered the fraud in 2003 but Mr Brebner and Mr Torr were not made aware of the inaccuracy until 2007.

The Law Society commissioned a review from retired Sheriff Principal Edward Bowen last year. He said the Guarantee Fund had been unable to make a payout because of lack of “clear proof or evidence of fraud”.

In 2002 law firm Jamieson & Cradock was shut down by the Court of Session and solicitor Russell Taylor was suspended for his misconduct.

He and Mr Taylor as well as seven others faced a trial in the High Court for an alleged £7 million property fraud six years ago. Sheriff Principal Bowen said this “foundered on a technicality” involving electronic versions of documents.

The Scottish Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal struck Mr Taylor off in 2010, saying he had behaved in a “systematic, disgraceful and dishonourable” way.

Mr Brebner was advised to sue Mr Taylor, despite the fact he had not acted for Mr Brebner. The action failed. He and Mr Torr were also required to defend an action by Mr Pocock’s trustee in bankruptcy to establish title to the flats.

Sheriff Bowen said: “The need to do that has protracted the situation as well as creating the perception of members of the legal profession pointing the finger of blame at each other with no one prepared to take ultimate responsibility.”

He recommended the fund be renamed a compensation fund, with the power to compensate victims in cases of prima facie fraud – in line with the practice south of the border.

The fund has since been renamed the Client Protection Fund. The Law Society said: “Other recommendations, such as widening the scope of the fund, would require changes to legislation and we have been in discussion with Scottish ministers in the hope time can be found in the next term of the Scottish Parliament for a new bill to allow for a number of legal reforms.”

Complaints against two of the law firms involved in the original conveyance were dismissed for being time-barred by the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission, with the circumstances being deemed “not exceptional”.

As for a complaint against Registers of Scotland for remaining silent between 2003 and 2007, it said it had cooperated with the Law Society but that it was “not appropriate to apply our normal complaints procedure”.

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