3YRS JAIL FOR LAWYER WHO STOLE pounds 500,000; Corrupt Nurse, 63, took from vulnerable client.
A LAWYER who stole almost pounds 500,000 and forged a "vulnerable" client's signature was jailed for three years yesterday.
Sentencing Alan George Nurse, 63, at Belfast Crown Court, Mr Justice Hart said "for a solicitor to commit forgery is a particularly grave matter" and warned him he could have got a seven-year prison sentence.
Nurse, from Ardnavalley Park, Ballydrain Road, Comber, Co Down, pleaded guilty last year to a total of 14 charges involving theft, forgery, and false accounting between January 1997 and August 2002.
In all Nurse, who first started practising as a solicitor in January 1971, admitted one charge of theft involving a total of pounds 481,465, one charge of fraud involving a forged loan for pounds 17,000, and 12 charges of false accounting involving client accounts.
Mr Justice Hart outlined how the theft charge related to Nurse billing clients' accounts for more than the work was worth.
He said: "In essence what the defendant did in each case was to debit a number of accounts with inflated amounts for fees, or took sums from clients' accounts to meet payments from his office amount."
Turning to the single count of forgery, he said that related to a "vulnerable individual" known only as 'P' who had inherited his father's estate but which was under the control of the Office of Care and Protection of the High Court.
Nurse admitted that he had drawn up bills of costs for the estate account "which were unjustified and using the excess money for his own purposes" and in addition, the former solicitor forged P's signature - authorising him to take pounds 17,000 from money he held from the sale of property.
All the offences came to light when suspicions were voiced by the firm's bookkeeper in 2001 after she returned from holiday and found irregularities in the client account books.
By January the following year the matter was referred to the Law Society which carried out a number of inspections until finally in July 2002, power of attorney was signed over to the Society who engaged a firm of forensic accountants.
Mr Justice Hart told Nurse that as a solicitor and "officer of the court," he was in a "particular position of trust" as he was permitted by law to handle clients' money.
The judge added: "Members of the public placed their affairs in his hands, and he abused that trust to commit these offences. This abuse of trust is the most serious aspect of these offences."
In imposing the three-year term, Mr Justice Hart concluded by telling Nurse that he had been "a very experienced solicitor who abused the trust placed in him to steal a very substantial amount of money over a long period of time, and in addition committed a further very grave offence when he forged the document".
pounds 17,000 WAS TAKEN FROM A CLIENT'S ACCOUNT AFTER ALAN NURSE FORGED HIS SIGNATURE
12 THE NUMBER OF CHARGES FOR FALSE ACCOUNTING OF CLIENT ACCOUNTS BETWEEN 1997 AND 2002
PRISON BOUND Solicitor Alan Nurse at court in Belfast yesterday