Employee stole £320k from law firm

A TRUSTED employee of a Suffolk law firm who stole £320,000 from the business has been jailed for 40 months.Brian Sales had worked for Nicholsons solicitors, in Lowestoft, for more than 30 years and had risen from an assistant in the accounts department to the position of accounts manager.

A TRUSTED employee of a Suffolk law firm who stole £320,000 from the business has been jailed for 40 months.

Brian Sales had worked for Nicholsons solicitors, in Lowestoft, for more than 30 years and had risen from an assistant in the accounts department to the position of accounts manager.

He was so highly regarded that one of the firm's partners had asked Sales to be best man at his wedding, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

However, unbeknown to his colleagues, Sales was forging his signature on cheques to enable him to steal money from the business, said Neil Macaulay, prosecuting.


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Sales, 54, of Lowestoft Road, Hopton, pleaded guilty to 12 offences of theft from Nicholsons between 1999 and 2005.

Jailing him for 40 months, Judge John Devaux said he had been trusted “implicitly” by his employers and that partners of the firm and other members of staff had felt a sense of personal betrayal at what he had done.

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He said although the period of dishonesty in the charges covered a period of five years, Sales had admitted to a probation officer stealing money over a period of 10 years.

Mr Macaulay told the court that as accounts manager Sales had earned between £24,000 and £30,000 per year - although this had dropped to £18,000 when he started working part-time.

He said Sales had initially created false purchases and expenses as a way of stealing money but had later made out cheques to himself and paid them straight into his bank account.

In June 2005 one of the partners questioned Sales about irregularities in a bill for searches on the internet and the defendant had admitted he had been stealing from the firm for three years at the rate of £2,000 a month.

He had later handed over two empty business cheque books which had each contained 240 cheques and a further cheque book with 69 cheques missing.

Sales told police he knew there was a reduced risk of detection if he defrauded the firm's business accounts rather than client account. He had also admitted deliberately keeping the individual amounts he stole to under £500 to further reduce the risk of being found out.

Mr Macaulay said that Nicholsons had managed to mitigate some of their losses by claiming £100,000 from their insurers and getting a £32,000 repayment from one of their banks.

However, the firm's profits had been “substantially reduced” in recent years as a result of Sales' dishonesty.

Mathew McNiff, for Sales, said his client had admitted his guilt at an early stage but had felt “sheer disbelief” when he was told the actual amount he had stolen.

He said at no stage had Sales thought to blame fellow workers for the theft.

Mr Macaulay told the court that Sales had not spent the money on high living. “He was simply trying to live”.

He said Sales had been declared bankrupt in March this year and had learnt a painful lesson.

After the case a spokesman for Nicholson's, which employees 22 people at its office in Alexandra Road, Lowerstoft, said Sales had acted in an “appalling and highly devious manner” over a long period.

He said that clients of the firm had been informed about the case and there were no concerns whatsoever about the firm's financial viability as a result of the thefts.

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