Published: 16:20, 14 February 2018
A crooked solicitor is in custody facing a jail sentence after he and his estate agent wife ripped off clients for their own financial gain.
In one fraud, Michael Lyons and his wife Kelly falsely claimed a house in Whitstable sold for £115,000, when the amount was £125,000 – and pocketed the £10,000 difference.
The couple were also deceitful over a property in Sturry, Canterbury, to gain £4,000 for themselves.
The 48-year-old solicitor, who was struck off in September 2016, and his wife, who ran Orchards Property Services, despite not being a qualified estate agent, operated from the same building in William Street, Herne Bay.
A judge said: “A solicitor knows instinctively you don’t do what this defendant has done. It is absolute dishonesty in the face of it.”
Prosecutor Don Ramble said Lyons acted as the conveyancing solicitor for the vendor, the buyer or both, while his 45-year-old wife valued and purported to market the properties.
Kelly Lyons was also employed as a conveyancing executive and completions clerk by her husband, despite not being licensed in conveyancing.
In March 2012, Dr David Farrall contacted Lyons Solicitors about selling a house in Maugham Court in Whitstable. Lyons suggested his wife should market the property.
Kelly Lyons valued it at £115,000 but recommended putting it up for £125,000 to test the market.
In May, she told Dr Farrell an offer of £110,000 had been made, but it was a lie as the figure was £125,000. She later told him the offer had been increased to £115,000.
“As a result of this information, David Farrell formally accepted this purported offer of £115,000, not knowing the true offer was, in fact, £125,000,” Mr Ramble told Maidstone Crown Court.
“At no time was the vendor or the purchaser informed that Michael Lyons was acting for both parties, which was a clear conflict of interest.”
In October, the buyer received a letter from Lyons enclosing a forged “land registry official copy of register of title”, confirming he had paid £125,000 for the leasehold.
An uncle of the buyer in June 2013 looked at website called nethouseprices and discovered the purchase price was £115,000. He then contacted Dr Farrell, who asked Lyons for an explanation.
Lyons claimed there had been a “sub-sale” of the property to Robert Saunders for £115,000 and he had then sold it to the buyer for £125,000. Mr Saunders is Kelly Lyons’ father.
Mr Ramble said the £10,000 difference had remained in the Orchards account.
Lyons also committed fraud and his wife committed forgery involving a house in Sunnyhill Road, Herne Bay.
"The family was under severe financial difficulties. That is what led him to make these terrible decisions to conduct himself in the way he did" - Georgina Gibbs
The property was marketed in June 2012 at £145,000 but was eventually sold in November to Robert and Judy Saunders – Kelly Lyons’ parents - for £95,000.
It was put back on the market in January 2013 for £175,000, marketed by Orchards Property Services. It did not sell and was withdrawn from the market. In February 2014, it was transferred to Michael and Kelly Lyons for “no monetary value”.
In the summer of 2015, the house was sold for £230,000.
The final fraud involved a house in Deansway Avenue in Sturry, which was valued at £130,000 to £135,000, and to be sold to pay for the owner’s care home fees.
Her nephew and niece were granted power of attorney and dealt with the sale. They were informed it was sold for £132,000.
But they discovered the person they were told had bought it was not the owner. She said she had been told that the original owner had died, matters were going to probate and the property had been taken off the market.
“These were lies as she had not died at all,” said Mr Ramble.
It was then discovered that another buyer had paid £136,000 for the house. The niece and nephew confronted the Lyons’ about the discrepancy in sale prices.
Kelly Lyons explained away the £4,000 discrepancy as an “administration mistake”.
Mr Ramble said she also charged £6,000 VAT in respect of 30 properties when she was not registered with HMRC. Lyons, who kept the amount, used the VAT number for her husband’s practice.
Michael Lyons admitted three offences of fraud and his wife admitted two offences of fraud, five of forgery and one of evading VAT.
A proceeds of crime hearing for the couple, now living in New Milton, Hampshire, with their children, aged 10 and nine, will be held on June 15.
Georgina Gibbs, for Michael Lyons, said it was a “spectacular fall from grace”, as he had been struck off. Until then, he had been “entirely law-abiding”.
“He has nobody but himself to blame, of course,” said Miss Gibbs.
Asked by Judge Adele Williams where the defrauded money had gone, Miss Gibbs said it was used for the family “to live”.
“The family was under severe financial difficulties,” she said. “That is what led him to make these terrible decisions to conduct himself in the way he did.”
Miss Gibbs said the impact on the couple’s children would be severe if he was sent to prison. He was also a primary carer for his elderly father.
She submitted that a suspended sentence would not be a soft option.
Lesley Manley, for Kelly Lyons, said the mother wanted to apologise for the upset and distress she had caused.
“She takes full responsibility for her actions,” said Miss Manley. “Were it not for her marital situation it is very unlikely she would have acted in this way.
“They have had to uproot their children to Hampshire. She wants stability for them. If she went into custody it would deprive them of parental care. It would be extremely damaging for them.”
Describing the offences as “spectacular”, Judge Williams added: “It is the whole dishonesty and fraudulent nature of the transaction. The monetary value is of lesser significance.”
A statement from one victim, she said, made powerfully clear “the absolute loss of trust” and the effect on him.
“It is the wider effect on the legal profession as a whole,” said the judge.
Sentence was adjourned until Friday. Michael Lyons was remanded in custody and Kelly Lyons’ bail was continued.