Lawyer with secret gambling addiction who stole £150,000 from his clients because he was being 'blackmailed by a mystery woman' is jailed for three years

  • Lawyer Steven Shepherd, 54, stole money from clients over two years
  • He forged documents and told 'bare faced lies' to conceal the fraud
  • Father-of-one had claimed he was paying off mystery female blackmailer
  • But judge ruled there was no proof and said it was for 'his own benefit' 

Fraud: Lawyer Steven Shepherd, pictured, who co-founded Shepherd Evans and Solicitors, forged documents and told 'bare faced lies'

Fraud: Lawyer Steven Shepherd, pictured, who co-founded Shepherd Evans and Solicitors, forged documents and told 'bare faced lies'

A 'greedy' lawyer who stole £150,000 from vulnerable clients to fund his long-standing gambling habit has been jailed for three years.

Steven Shepherd, who co-founded Shepherd Evans and Solicitors in Macclesfield, Cheshire, forged documents and told 'bare faced lies' in order to conceal his crimes, the court heard.

The father-of-one, who was addicted to online gaming machines, had claimed that he had taken the money in order to pay a mystery female blackmailer.

But the judge dismissed the claim, ruling that Shepherd had taken the money 'entirely for his own benefit'.

Shepherd, 54, was jailed at Minshull Crown Court, Manchester, after pleading guilty to eight charges of theft and one of false accounting. 

The lawyer, who specialised in personal injury and probate cases, stole the money from clients' accounts between July 2009 and November 2011, the court was told. 

His crimes were uncovered during an independent financial audit of his law firm. His business partner, Christopher Evans, immediately dismissed Shepherd and notified police.

During an investigation by the Solicitors' Regulation Authority, Shepherd claimed that he was being blackmailed. 

Mitigating, David Bentley said he had seen proof that Shepherd was making monthly payments of £3,000 into another accounts, but no further details of the alleged blackmail plot had emerged.

Prosecutor Jacob Dyer said Shepherd had abused his position by taking money from client accounts and concealing the fraud by falsifying client ledger and other documents on file.

Mr Dyer added: 'It is clear the defendant had a long standing gambling problem. 

'The defendant also suggested at one point that he was being blackmailed and had to make payments to previous business associate. '

In mitigation, Mr Bentley said: 'Steven Shepherd who was involved in a very buoyant practice until matters took a turn for the worse.

'Mr Shepherd was subject to blackmail from a female blackmailer.

'Receipts I have, show over monthly periods of time he was paying £3000 in an account. 

'He has not elaborated on this aspect of his life at the time but what I have been able to glean from him, this provides context or significant context.

You have cause significant harm to your business partner who has had to deal with the ruinous consequences of you actions in his professional and personal life
Judge John Potter 

'This is not a case of him stealing to fund gambling addiction. The addiction came about prior to these offences as a result of what was going on in his life. 

'Gambling was still part of his life during periods of the offending but there were other financial pressures.

'In terms of the reference to blackmail, that has come from the SRA investigation.

'The reality is that he always thought the house sale would bring an end to matters but other financial difficulties came his way. 

'Mr Shepherd has a deep regret for finding himself in the position he does and as a professional man who no longer has that status.

'He is presently unemployed - he had constantly worked since he left university. He is unlikely to work in a trust capacity again and he only has himself to blame.'

'He is still in a relationship with his partner and is rented accommodation but his lifestyle has dramatically changed as a result of the position he has placed himself in.'

Sentencing, Judge John Potter said : 'The offending represented a serious act of dishonest undertaken by you to take client money and then cover it up.

'The evidence in front of me suggest that you did so entirely for you own benefit to fund a gambling habit. 

Sentenced: Shepherd, 54, was jailed at Minshull Crown Court, Manchester, pictured after pleading guilty to eight charges of theft and one of false accounting. The father-of-one had claimed he was being blackmailed

Sentenced: Shepherd, 54, was jailed at Minshull Crown Court, Manchester, pictured after pleading guilty to eight charges of theft and one of false accounting. The father-of-one had claimed he was being blackmailed

'Yours were actions of a greedy and selfish man taking money from vulnerable people to stave off your creditors and in particular it seems Her Royal Majesty Revenue and Customs.

'Inevitably a degree of sophistication was required to conceal your actions from other solicitors in the practice, and often the clients themselves. 

'You did this by dishonesty abuse, forging documents supported by telling bare faced lies.

Inevitably a degree of sophistication was required to conceal your actions from other solicitors in the practice, and often the clients themselves. You did this by dishonesty abuse, forging documents supported by telling bare faced lies.
Judge John Potter 

'You have caused significant harm to your practice and its employees. 

'You have cause significant harm to your business partner who has had to deal with the ruinous consequences of you actions in his professional and personal life.

'You have caused significant harm to the reputation of the legal profession. The public have an expectation that they can trust you solely to look after money with probity. 

'You have destroyed your professional career but as the advocate properly says you only have yourself to blame.

'This offending amount to a naked and blatant abuse of trust open to you as a solicitor.' 

Shepherd was also ordered to pay compensation of £45,000 to his former business partner and £100,000 to a client. He was further ordered to pay £700 costs. 

Speaking after sentencing, Detective Constable Anthony Condon from Cheshire Police said: 'Mr Shepherd abused his position as a solicitor and had stolen funds from the estates of deceased parties and from civil cases he was managing.

'He also falsified documents and cheques to conceal the fact that he had misappropriated funds from client accounts. 

'These funds were used to pay Mr Shepherd's personal tax liability and were also used for his own disposal.

'Shepherd's misappropriation of funds has caused a great deal of upset for the families who trusted him to manage their personal affairs with respect and dignity, it has also caused a large amount of stress for Shepherd's ex-partner in the law firm, Mr Evans, who was completely unaware of Shepherd's criminal behaviour.' 

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