Scottish lawyer found guilty of professional misconduct in mortgage fraud case

Jessica Nangle

February 4, 2020

A Scottish lawyer who represented an elderly victim of mortgage fraud has been found guilty of professional misconduct over his failure to act in the client’s best interests according to Scottish Legal News.

The solicitor Alistair Bowie reportedly concluded missives, or had a legally binding contract, which resulted in the client’s home being transferred to Edwin McLaren.

McLaren was later found guilty of fraud and sentenced to 11 years imprisonment.

The trial of McLaren at the High Court in Glasgow was the longest in UK legal history at 20 months.

The Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT) concluded that Bowie demonstrated a “serious and reprehensible departure from the standards of competent and reputable solicitors” in failing to take steps to avoid the fraud which was being committed.

Using the alias David Johnston, McLaren has instructed Bowie to open the client’s file after falsely claiming to her that he would purchase her property in Dundee for £5,000, settle her outstanding mortgage, debts and conveyancing fees whilst allowing her to reamin in the property as a tenant rent-free.

An agreement was signed, but the client had signed a disposition transferring title of her property for £20,000.

Bowie made no enquiries following the meeting with McLaren, and having accepted instructions from an intermediary, had failed to consult the client.

He also made a “false declaration” as a notary public when he completed the client’s declaration of insolvency.

Mortgage fraudster McLaren targeted vulnerable homeowners through newspaper advertisements and persuaded them to sell their homes with the promise he would clear their debts and allow them to remain in the property.

McLaren then arranged for the homes to be bought at discount prices after making fraudulent mortgage applications, leaving his victims homeless and out of pocket.

The Scottish Legal Times reports that Bowie was said to be “entirely unaware” of Edwin McLaren’s fraudulent enterprise and “deeply regretful” of the distress caused.

He also reports to have accepted that the things were not done as they ought to have been and wished he had been “more proactive” in enquiring about the circumstances with the client.

Mr Bowie retired in 2017 after 42 years of practice, however the tribunal concluded that striking his name from the roll of solicitors was the “only suitable sanction”.

Nicholas Whyte, chair at the SSDT, said: “Solicitors must always be trustworthy and act honestly.

“They must act in the best interests of their clients. They must have the authority of their clients for their actions […]

“On balance, the tribunal considered that the professional misconduct was so serious that the only suitable sanction was strike off.

“In coming to that decision, it took into account the effect on the respondent and the message to the public and the profession.

“While solicitors will sometimes become victims of fraud through no fault of their own, the respondent failed to engage with the secondary complainer about many of the warning signs that had been apparent in this case and then had gone to act dishonestly with regard to the affidavit.

“His behaviour went to the root of the trust placed in solicitors.

“Therefore, the tribunal ordered that the respondent’s name be struck off the roll of solicitors in Scotland.”

Sign up to our daily email