A criminal defence solicitor-advocate who instructed a number of secretaries to alter documents and correspondence on a substantial scale, has been suspended from practice for nine months. Dean Russell Easthope, a former associate at Midlands firm Lanyon Bowdler, was admitted to the roll in October 2000. He left the firm in March 2017 and is now practicing as a barrister. Easthope admitted instructing his secretaries to fabricate and backdate letters, attendance notes and other documents in breach of SRA Principles 2, 4 and 6. His motivation was to satisfy the audit practice and his senior partners, but there was no financial advantage to anyone as a result of what happened.

The activity included the creation of 41 different types of documents, all backdated, in a single case over a period of nearly 16 months. In another instance, 11 back-dated documents were created because the particular client’s file had been selected for an audit by the Legal Aid Agency; but there was no paper file at the time. He also falsely signed quality audit reports for a number of files to confirm he had carried out specified corrective actions when he knew that was not the case. Easthope was also accused of dishonesty but this allegation was eventually withdrawn by the tribunal. It considered the full circumstance and decided that there had been no financial disadvantage to anyone, nor had any client been disadvantaged. It also found that while he had recorded what had actually occurred on the files it was done inappropriately. It was “simply a case of putting the file in the order it should have been”. While this showed a lack of truthfulness and lack of integrity, the tribunal accepted he had not been dishonest.

However, it concluded that Easthope’s culpability was high: this was a planned course of action which was repeated a number of times; he had direct control over the circumstances; and he had 15 years’ experience as a solicitor at the time. The tribunal noted that while no harm was caused to any client, the reputation of the profession was damaged. Furthermore, the misconduct was aggravated because his actions were “deliberate, calculated, repeated and took place over a period of more than a year” and amounted to serious professional misconduct. At the hearing on 9 May, Easthope was suspended for nine months and agreed to pay costs of almost £7,000 under the agreed outcome procedure. He told the tribunal that he had stopped working as a solicitor and had no intention of ever returning to practice. He is now working as a self-employed barrister at Cornwall Street Barristers in Shrewsbury.

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