HMA v RICHARD SUTTON HOUSLEY & CAROLINE JANE LAING

At the High Court in Edinburgh Lord Tyre imposed custodial sentences on Richard Housley and Caroline Laing after they were found guilty of committing fraud.

Richard Housley,

“By the unanimous verdict of the jury you were convicted of three charges on the indictment: two under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and a charge of fraud at common law. 

I begin with the most serious of the offences: Charge 3, which is the charge under section 328 of the 2002 Act of being concerned in an arrangement which you knew or suspected facilitated the retention or use of criminal property: in other words, being knowingly concerned in the facilitation of money laundering.  The sums involved are large, amounting in total to around £1.3 million.  In determining the appropriate sentence I must take into account that this figure, although only constituting a fraction of the amounts of VAT originally defrauded by Michael Voudouri and others, is nonetheless still very substantial. 

I also must take into account that you carried out these transactions, as well as acting as director of Labarito Limited, in the course of your professional business as a solicitor in a firm of which you were the senior partner, the cash room partner and the money laundering reporting officer.  The risk of use of solicitors’ client accounts for laundering the proceeds of crime is well recognised.  The solicitor’s role as a gatekeeper in preventing money laundering is not limited to carrying out formal identity checks.  It is of much greater importance that members of the legal profession act with honesty and integrity when implementing the statutory obligations imposed upon them by the Proceeds of Crime legislation.  They are trusted to do so by the law enforcement agencies and by their fellow lawyers.  In relation to the matters before me you have fallen short of the standard required of a member of the legal profession.

I am obliged by law not to impose a custodial sentence unless I determine that no other disposal is appropriate.  Having regard to the sums involved, the length of the  period of time after February 2003 during which the various activities listed in the charge took place and the breach of trust placed in you as a solicitor, I have concluded that no sentence other than a sentence of imprisonment is appropriate.

In fixing the length of the sentence there are matters which I can take into account in your favour.  You have no criminal record or previous convictions.  You are assessed as presenting no risk of re-offending.  I have listened to what Mr Moir has said on your behalf today and I have read the letters submitted on your behalf.  I recognise that your professional career is at an end, and that your prosecution and conviction in respect of these offences has had and will continue to have a devastating effect on your private life, although it has to be said that these are consequences which you have brought upon yourself.   I also consider it right to bear in mind that the prospect of conviction and punishment has had an impact on your life for a very long period of time.

In all of the circumstances I sentence you on Charge 3 to imprisonment for a period of four years, beginning today”.

Charge 1 is also a serious offence of dishonesty.  With a view to gaining a financial advantage you submitted income tax returns which showed your wife to be an employee of your firm, carrying out work in exchange for a salary, when you were aware that this was false.  Again your standards of integrity have fallen below those to be expected of a member of the legal profession.  The revenue authorities expect lawyers to be scrupulously honest with regard to their own tax affairs and rightly regard it as a very serious matter when they are not.  For its part, this court expects no less.  Again I consider that only a custodial sentence is appropriate.  I sentence you on Charge 1 to imprisonment for a period of six months, to run concurrently with the sentence on Charge 3.

Charge 4 is a charge of failing to make a suspicious activity report to the relevant authorities in relation to the money laundering activities of Michael Voudouri and Caroline Laing.  Although a conviction under this charge does not require actual knowledge or suspicion, it is clear from the fact that you were convicted of Charge 3 that the jury did regard you as having actual knowledge or suspicion.  It is, however, a lesser charge than the charge under section 328 and arises out of the same activities and the same failure to meet the standards required of you by professional rules as well as by the criminal law.  I sentence you on Charge 4 to imprisonment for a period of six months, to run concurrently with the sentences in Charges 1 and 3.

 

Carolyn Laing,

By the unanimous verdict of the jury you were convicted of Charge 3 on the indictment, being the only charge made against you.

Much of what I have said in relation to Mr Housley also applies to you.  The sums with which you were concerned, amounting to around £800,000, were very large.  At the trial you gave evidence that you were an unwitting victim of Michael Voudouri’s dishonesty.  Clearly the jury did not accept that, but were unanimously of the view that you knew or at least suspected that the funds which were passing through your personal bank account represented the proceeds of crime.  It is on that basis that I must now pronounce sentence.

I have taken account of what Mr Pollock has said on your behalf this morning.  I have also read the testimonial letters submitted on your behalf, and it is to your credit that so many people speak so highly of the services which you provide.  Having regard to this information, to your medical issues, and to the personal details set out in the social work report, I have considered very carefully whether in your case a custodial sentence is the only appropriate disposal.   In the end however I am clearly of the view that only a custodial sentence would reflect the gravity of the offence of which you have been convicted.  By allowing your bank account to be used to receive and disburse monies on behalf of Michael Voudouri and his companies, you facilitated the re-entry of proceeds of crime into the financial system.  I have already referred to the substantial sums involved.  I do however again take account of the long period of time which has passed since you were charged with this offence.

In all the circumstances, and taking account of what was said this morning and in the letters written on your behalf, I sentence you to imprisonment for a period of two years and six months, beginning today”.