Page last updated at 09:13 GMT, Thursday, 31 December 2009

Stockport law firm closed over dishonesty probe

All sales due to go ahead have been frozen by the SRA

A Stockport-based law firm has been closed down and five solicitors have had their licences suspended amid claims of dishonesty.

Wolstenholmes, which opened in 1818, is being investigated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

The Legal Complaints Service (LCS) is dealing with 116 complaints from customers who say they have lost money.

One of those suspended, Imran Hussain, apologised for the current situation and for distress caused to customers.

Helen Murgatroyd, Bobby Shabbir, Bilal Khawaja and Nasser Ilyas also had their licences suspended just before Christmas.

£200,000 is a lot of money when you have worked so hard for that most of your working life
Tracey, Wolstenholmes customer

Many of the complaints are from customers who have been using the firm to help them buy and sell their homes.

Mr Hussain said he had worked 17-hour days in a bid to ensure sales went through and he denies any wrongdoing.

However many customers say they have been left hundreds of thousands of pounds out of pocket.

BBC Radio Manchester has learnt that all sales which were due to go ahead shortly before the festive period have been frozen as the SRA intervenes.

'Devastating' situation

One woman, who wanted to be known only as Tracey, told the BBC that she was stranded in a caravan with her children, one of whom is disabled, after the £445,000 she had transferred to Wolstenholmes was frozen by the SRA.

She transferred the cash, with £200,000 of it being her own money, to Wolstenholmes in mid-December.

She said: "It's devastating really - £200,000 is a lot of money when you have worked so hard for that most of your working life."

An SRA spokesman said: "The firm is currently under investigation and on 24 and 27 December we intervened into the practices of five of the solicitors whose practising certificates have been suspended.

"The grounds for the intervention were suspected dishonesty and breaches of the Solicitors Accounts and Practice Rules.

"The intervention is not punitive, it is about protecting the public and safeguarding funds.

"For those who fear they have lost money, it will be dealt with by the solicitors indemnity insurance or the SRA Compensation Fund."

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