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Burnley solicitor questioned in fraud inquiry
12:00pm Saturday 12th January 2013 in Burnley
A SOLICITOR has been questioned by police as part of an investigation into alleged fraud.
Police arrested Kimberley Bridge, a former partner at SFN Solicitors in Burnley, which closed in October.
She was arrested on suspicion fraud, forgery and theft following information provided by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
The solicitors’ watchdog has started its own investigation into the same allegations of 'dishonest' conduct.
The alleged offences are suspected to have taken place between November 2010 and November 2012.
Ms Bridge, 41, of Cumbrian Way, Burnley, was questioned by detectives and has been released on police bail until Thursday, March 14.
The lawyer's arrest came as the SRA revealed it had intervened in the practice and shut it down pending the outcome of the investigation.
The watchdog's inquiry centres on whether there had been breaches of Solicitors’ Accounts Rules 1998 and the SRA Accounts Rules 2011 by Ms Bridge and the other partners John Charles McNabb and Tracy Stansfield.
The watchdog said it had seized all the firm’s documents and the licence to practise of the three partners had been suspended.
In a statement, the regulation authority said: “We will stop the firm from operating, take possession of all documents and papers held by the firm, including clients' papers, and take possession of all money held by the firm, including clients' money.”
An agent, Gordons LLP, has been appointed to deal with all matters currently held by SFN Solicitors, the regulatory authority said.
At present, the agent is assessing all the firm’s cases, dealing with those of greatest need first and assigning them to other local solicitors' firms.
The firm originally closed for business in October blaming ill health, market conditions and insurance costs.
At that time John McNabb, one of three partners at the firm, said: “We had continued in recent years to trade in extremely challenging market circumstances.
“Of the three partners, one had been away from the office for some time with ill health. The managing partner of the business then suffered a stroke and had to be hospitalised.
“At this point there was no alternative but to close the office. Immediately upon closure both the regulatory authorities and the local Law Society were contacted.”
The regulators in control said clients of SFN Solicitors do not need to contact either the agent or the themselves at this time as their files would be passed on to other law firms.
The firm specialised in personal injury, conveyancing, matrimonial, wills, probate and commercial before it was closed.