Solicitor told to pay back charity money

A CORRUPT solicitor jailed for stealing nearly �200,000 bequeathed to charities, including vital funds destined for two local hospices, has been ordered to pay money back or face longer in prison.

James Hore

A CORRUPT solicitor jailed for stealing nearly �200,000 bequeathed to charities, including vital funds destined for two local hospices, has been ordered to pay money back or face longer in prison.

Former Brightlingsea solicitor Philip Totenhofer helped himself to the money, including thousands from a will to be shared between St Helena Hospice in Colchester and St Elizabeth Hospice in Ipswich.

The 62-year-old was jailed for three years last November after pleading guilty to six counts of theft.

But a judge at Chelmsford Crown Court has now made the shamed solicitor the subject of a confiscation order under the Proceeds Of Crime Act.

He ordered Totenhofer to pay St Helena and St Elizabeth hospices �36,000 each.

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And the ruling means that unless Totenhofer, who was struck off in 2003, pays the money, his prison sentence will be extended by an extra 18 months.

Last night both St Helena and St Elizabeth welcomed the news that the money stolen from the will of Brightlingsea woman Constance Fanny Fitzgerald in March 2004 could still go towards the good work they carry out.

Speaking on behalf of both hospices, Rosy Stamp, director of St Helena, thanked Essex Police for their work ensuring the stolen money was recovered.

She said: “The police have done a fantastic job and we would like to thank the team involved very warmly.

“The thefts were a breach of trust so I do not think there can be any mitigation for what he did and this all happened after he had been struck off as a solicitor by The Law Society.

“The money we will be getting is the yearly salary of a specialist nurse, including on-call, and costs.

“It really is a big amount for us and we are just so grateful to the police and then the judge who made the confiscation order.”

The order made at Chelmsford Crown Court also means the RNLI at Poole, Dorset, and McMillan Cancer Support should each receive �17,000.

The two charities had been bequeathed the money by Ellen Grout, of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, but the court was told Totenhover, helped himself to more than �41,000.

Mrs Grout died in 1998 at the age of 82 and initially bequeathed her estate to her son Ted, who had learning difficulties.

But when he died in 2004, the will instructed to make the bequests to the charities.

The court had been told it was only when her other son later contacted the charities, that they discovered the money had not reached them.

Totenhofer has been given six months to pay up or face the extended sentence.

james.hore@eadt.co.uk