Law Firm 'Awash with Cash' Legal Aid Fraud Trial Told of Sophisticated Share-Out System

Article excerpt

A Midland solicitor's firm at the centre an an alleged pounds 2.25 million fraud was "awash with cash" after thousands of bogus claims were submitted to the Legal Aid Board, a court heard.

Accounts show Alan Pritchard's firm was completing "huge amounts" of legal aid work which was "virtually" bringing in all the income.

Pritchard, Peter Lane and Brian O'Connor are accused of abusing the green form scheme which allows those on benefits or low incomes up to two hours of free help or advice from a solicitor.

The trio are accused of "conning" members of the public into signing blank forms which were later filled in with "fictitious figures" and "made up" information and submitted to the Legal Aid Board.

One of the methods said to have been used was to target people who called at the firm's Wolverhampton branch which acted as a letting agency.

The court heard people were asked to sign forms either as part of an application process to see houses or, if on benefit, to claim cash for the cost of services. And when the Legal Aid Board became suspicious, records were made up to give the appearance work or advice had gone ahead.

Yesterday Birmingham Crown Court was told of details of the firm's accounts during the time of the alleged deception from April 1993 to April 1994.

Mr Melbourne Inman QC, prosecuting, said the Legal Aid Board paid Pritchard's practice, called Pritchard and Co, more than pounds 2.25 million for work said to have been carried out, which compared with pounds 35,000 just two years earlier.

"The firm was virtually running on green form work. The huge amounts of money were simply being spilt between the three," he said. "With the phenomenal amount of money coming in, money was not a problem, the firm was awash with cash."

Pritchard (53), of College Road, New Oscott, Birmingham; Lane (56), of Wast Hills Lane, Hopwood, Worcestershire, and O'Connor (40), of Buttons Farm Road, Penn, Wolverhampton, all deny one charge of conspiracy to defraud.

Mr Inman said Lane worked from the firm's Birmingham branch, in Corporation Street, and O'Connor the Wolverhampton office, in North Street.

The two are said to have concentrated on getting blank forms signed which were then processed through Pritchard's practice with the cash paid into his legal aid account.

Lane and O'Connor are thought to have been paid half the amount claimed from each of the bogus forms they brought in while Pritchard received the rest, it was alleged. …