Solicitors struck off after improper advice to pension savers

Two solicitors have been struck off due to professional misconduct after the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal found they had failed to give proper advice to investors who sunk their pensions into a 'dubious' investment scheme.

Margaret Hetherington and Patrick Hetherington, former partners of The Hetherington Partnership Limited, were also ordered to pay costs of £49,000 each after the tribunal agreed with allegations they had failed to give clients adequate advice and to act in their best interests.

The duo were also found to have preferred their own interests to those of their clients and to have acted dishonestly, recklessly or with manifest incompetence, while Patrick Hetherington was also found to have failed to ensure the firm complied with its regulatory obligations.

James Ramsden QC, who presented the case on behalf of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), penned a blog post about the case, explaining that the investment scheme had involved the acquisition of long leases in airport car parking spaces and self-storage pods before it collapsed in 2018.

This collapse came after a period of almost seven years in which more than £100m from almost 7,000 clients passed through the Hetherington Partnership client account, with the Hetheringtons having acted on behalf of prospective buyers.

Ramsden wrote that the case was "one of the most important brought by the SRA in several years" due to its focus on "the role of solicitors as advisers in unregulated collective investment schemes frequently promoted to Sipp trustees and where the solicitors acted under a referral agreement with the scheme promoter, Group First".

The Hetheringtons still have the opportunity to lodge an appeal against the decision, which would send the case to the High Court.

Speaking after the verdict, Ramsden said: “This is an important decision for the profession. The preponderance of these schemes, often linked to lucrative referral arrangements, is a trend solicitors need to be very wary of. As Sipps increasingly fail to provide adequate incomes in retirement, Sipp trustees are susceptible to the allure of high-return investment offerings.

“This was a complex investigation and tribunal which will provide clear guidance to solicitors on the ambit of their duties to advise generally on transactions that have the hallmarks of ultra-high risk or blatantly dishonest offerings.”

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