A WORCESTER solicitor who swindled his law firm out of around £13,000 of clients’ money has been jailed for 20 months, we reported five years ago this month.

Stephen Climo, aged 50, of The Heath, Holt Heath, admitted four offences of fraud and one of theft and was told by Judge Richard Rundell his crimes had been a “grave breach of trust”. The Worcester News reported the story in September 2015.

Worcester Crown Court heard that Gaynor-Smith, Owen & Co, where Climo was head of the private client department, expected to have lost up to £50,000 in turnover due to having to repay clients and for the amount of work needed to carry out an audit of his work.

Climo – who became a solicitor 15 years ago despite having previous convictions for fraud in 1994 – committed the latest offences after falling into debt over building a conservatory and a third bedroom extension to his home.

John Brotherton, prosecuting, said that a woman arrived at the office of Gaynor-Smith, Owen & Co in Malvern in an agitated” state to say that withdrawals had been made from the bank account of a close friend, Joan Jones, after her death in May.

The firm had been acting as executors of Mrs Jones’s will and it was later found that Climo had taken a total of £2,400 of her money at cash points after failing to advise the bank of her death.

The firm had also been managing accounts for Arthur Waldwyn, one of which contained £50,000 to cover his care home costs.

But there was a shortfall of more than £7,000 in the account and it was found that Climo had withdrawn various amounts between 2011 and 2014 for himself.

He had also pocketed £180 fees from each of two other clients – Edith Barefield and Doreen Nokes – for preparing their wills, although he later repaid that money into the firm’s accounts.

Mr Brotherton said that, in May, the firm’s cashier, Liz Williams, raised concerns about the money with partner Edward Gaynor-Smith and, at about the same time, Climo began taking unauthorised absences from work.

Climo resigned, saying he had found a new job, but Mr Gaynor-Smith asked him for his client files and he was then suspended and faced a disciplinary hearing.

It was later found that another client, Sheila Wardle, who was aged over 90, had paid cheques of £2,000 and £700 to Climo, which were written in his hand but signed by her, into his personal bank account.

In a victim statement to the court, Mr Gaynor-Smith said the real loss to the firm of what Climo had done was the potential damage to its 40-year reputation.

Mr Gaynor-Smith added he felt “betrayed and angry” by the breach of trust and he had to face “angry and upset” clients.

Jason Aris, defending, said Climo had now offered to take out a second charge on his home to make good the money he had taken.

He added his client got into debt over extensions to his house and his wife, a care assistant, had to take time off work through being unwell.

His son had also become unwell and then his brother-in-law and mother-in-law moved in with the family, causing financial pressure to Climo.

Judge Rundell told Climo: “It is difficult to imaging a position that commands greater respect than that of the family solicitor.

“It’s important to be trusted – he’s dealing with clients’ money and solicitors are expected to be scrupulously honest.

“Over three to four years you took money from a number of clients.

“You took in the region of £13,000 – that might be thought to be relatively modest.

“The loss to your firm and the impact on the firm both in financial terms and the firm’s reputation is a grave breach of trust.”

The judge told Climo that he would serve half his prison sentence and spend the rest out on licence.