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Fifteen-year bankruptcy deal for conveyancer who caused £9m loss

14 June 2010

A conveyancing partner at defunct Berkshire firm Willmett Solicitors has signed a 15-year bankruptcy restriction undertaking with the Insolvency Service, the maximum term possible.

Jonathan Gilbert resigned from the firm in March 2009 leaving only a note to his former partners in which he apologised for “the mess” he had left them. He was declared bankrupt three months later.

The solicitor has less than £150,000 worth of realisable assets but his old firm is seeking to recover £5m from him. In a separate action a mortgage lender is claiming £4m.

In the undertaking agreed with the Insolvency Service, Gilbert has accepted he abused the trust of his clients and breached his duties as a solicitor.

He will be barred from being a company director, or being the trustee of a charity, or in charge of a trust scheme such as a pension fund.

He will also be unable to handle money on account and will have to disclose the bankruptcy if he applies for credit for more than £500.

The Insolvency Service, which is acting for the Crown, has two years to conduct an investigation to uncover the existence on realisable assets on behalf of creditors.

Willmett Solicitors was a mixed practice with offices in Reading, Windsor, Maidenhead and Woodley.

The firm closed in December 2009, just a month after it was ordered to pay two housing associations a total of £1.35m by the High Court for failing to comply with undertakings made by Jonathan Gilbert in a commercial property transaction.

“At the beginning of March 2009, Mr Gilbert sent his partners an email in which he apologised for the mess he had left them in relation to various matters and summarily resigned,” said Mr Justice Mann said in Thames Valley Housing Association and Ors v Elegant Homes (Guernsey) and Ors [2009] EWHC 2647 (Ch).

“Since then he has not been available to Willmett to explain what happened in this transaction and why it happened.”

The court heard that Elegant Homes (Guernsey) secured a loan of over £6m from the Bank of Scotland to fund the development in Bray, Berkshire, in return for various charges over the land.

Elegant Homes later agreed to sell some plots of land to two housing associations for around £975,000, and Willmetts gave undertakings that it would secure release of the relevant charge. The charge was not removed, but the sale proceeds transferred by Gilbert to Elegant Homes. The Bank of Scotland knew nothing about the sale.

He added: thay he had sympathy with the other partners in Willmett “who seem, prime facie, to have been let down by Mr Gilbert”.

It is understood that the claim will be covered by Willmett’s indemnity insurance. The precise relationship between the court case and the dissolution of the partnership is unclear.

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