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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 11:55 GMT 12:55 UK
'Mini Maxwell' made millions from legal aid

by John Kay
BBC correspondent

More than 20 staff from Robinsons Solicitors - which had offices in Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bristol and Swindon - have been convicted of defrauding the Legal Aid system. On Friday, as the final trial collapsed, reporting restrictions were lifted, and the full extent of the crimes could at last be revealed.

It was January 1995 when the Robinsons Solicitors firm was raided by police - acting on a tip-off from a former employee.

Detectives seized more than three tonnes of legal documents from the firm's offices in Gloucester, Cheltenham, Bristol and Swindon.

Tim Robinson and Tracie Andrews
Tim Robinson's most famous client was murderer Tracie Andrews
The company's suave Rolls-Royce-driving owner - Tim Robinson - was already under investigation when he represented his most famous client, road rage murderer Tracie Andrews.

When he was interviewed hours after the raids Robinson denied all knowledge of fraud.

But he had been rumbled.

After analysing thousands of Legal Aid forms gathered from the premises, detectives uncovered a large-scale fraud, committed over many years.

'Astounded'

Detective Inspector Paul Yeatman of Gloucestershire Police said: "We were all astounded. The more we got into it, we realised what we'd uncovered."

The fraud at Robinsons was simple but extremely lucrative.

After giving free legal advice to people on low incomes, some legal staff would ask clients to sign a so-called green form.

Each office was like a factory, producing green forms - some clerks would say up to 50% of their green forms were fictitious
Detective Inspector Paul Yeatman

This much was a standard procedure and allowed the company to claim the money back from the Legal Aid Board.

But Robinsons would not just ask the client to sign one form - some staff would ask them to sign multiple forms, so they could later claim for hundreds of hours of legal work which had never been done.

To this day, nobody knows exactly how much public money was fraudulently claimed, but Det Insp Yeatman believes it runs into millions of pounds.

He said: "Each office was like a factory, producing green forms. Some clerks would say up to 50% of their green forms were fictitious. Other clerks have said higher. And that was going on on a daily basis."

'Obsessed with money'

In the year 2000 the first case came to court and Robinson himself was convicted of conspiracy to defraud.

Described during the trial as "a mini Maxwell - obsessed with power and money" - he was jailed for seven years.

Since then, 21 of his former employees - nearly half the company's solicitors and clerks - have also been convicted or pleaded guilty. Five others were acquitted.

The whole profession regards Tim Robinson as a total and utter disgrace
Andrew Gregg
Law Society
Law Society spokesman Andrew Gregg said: "The whole profession regards Tim Robinson as a total and utter disgrace.

"We are ashamed of him and what he did. Unfortunately in every walk of life - whether it's the legal world, the medical world, the dental world, even the police - you'll find the odd bad apple."

Even though the Robinsons scandal has not been reported until now, it has already led to major changes in the legal world.

Green forms have been replaced by regularly-audited computer systems and there is now a hotline to report suspected fraud.

Most significantly the Legal Aid Board has been replaced by the Legal Services Commission, whose spokesman Geoff Mountjoy said it could never happen again.

Zero tolerance

He said: "The fact that the police have been so successful in prosecuting this particular case...is a very important initiative... and something that shows that over-claiming will not be tolerated."

Robinson was released from prison this summer, after serving half his sentence.

In a BBC interview this week he still protested his innocence - claiming he was framed by a legal establishment which was out to get him.

He said: "If it had been a fair, balanced investigation, I think all of us would have been content with that - but this was anything but fair and balanced...the dice was loaded was loaded from the start."

Robinson, now 60, has already appealed against his conviction and lost.

He has been struck off by the Law Society - and will never work in the industry again.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The background of the case



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