A flamboyant lawyer and 21 of his former employees have been convicted of running a legal aid scam that netted an estimated £8.5m of state money, it was revealed yesterday.
Tim Robinson, 60, and members of his West Country-based law firm submitted bogus claims for millions of pounds of work that was never done. Robinson, who enjoyed a luxury lifestyle and was driven around in hired Rolls Royces, was jailed for fraud in 2001 and released in July this year, although for legal reasons the case can only be made public now. In addition to a seven-year jail sentence, Robinson was ordered to pay more than £1m in compensation and costs.
In the early 1990s, Robinsons Solicitors, which had offices in Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bristol and Swindon, but no longer exists, boasted it was one of the largest specialist criminal law practices in Britain. One of the lawyer’s best-known clients was Tracie Andrews, who was jailed for life for the murder in 1996 of her fiancé, Lee Harvey, whom she claimed was stabbed to death by a stranger in a road-rage attack near their home in Alvechurch, Worcestershire.
In six hearings spread over four years, Bristol Crown Court was told that the fraud centred on the Green Forms that were used by law firms to claim for certain types of legal aid work. Solicitors and clerks exaggerated their bills or made up clients.
Some claimed for so much work that they would have had to have worked 30 hours a day, the court heard. The firm’s clerks, who were earning a basic salary of £10,000 a year, were paid up to £4,500 a month overtime and were given Mercedes Benz cars with personalised number plates such as 4LAW or 7LAW.
The fraud was uncovered after police received a tip-off from a clerk called Richard Hill, who later told the court that the firm targeted poorer areas to secure legal-aided clients with the motto: “Where there’s muck there’s brass.”
Mr Hill said that Robinson kept a supply of cigarettes in his office to give to clients who came in to sign the bogus forms. He said his former boss even had ties made for the staff that featured the scales of justice, the serial number of the forms which were the firm’s lifeblood and the letters: “Geaf and Keh.” Mr Hill said this stood for another of Robinson’s mottos: “Give ’em a fag and keep ’em happy.”
The Serious Fraud Office and three police forces took more than 3,000 witness statements and seized 21 tons of documents from the firm’s offices as they investigated the scam. It is not known exactly how much was defrauded from the Legal Aid Board, but estimates suggest it could have been as much as half the £17m claimed by Robinson’s during the six-year period investigated.
Details of the fraud could only be reported for the first time yesterday after reporting restrictions, which had been put in place to avoid prejudicing future court proceedings, were lifted by a judge. Of those arrested, 22 either pleaded guilty or were convicted, four were found not guilty and three were not prosecuted.
Robinson enjoyed all the trappings of success, living in a £750,000 vicarage in an exclusive village and sending his children to public schools. Ian Glen QC, for the prosecution, said Robinson was described by one of his clerks as “a mini-Maxwell, obsessed with power and money”.