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Top law firm partner who handed associate lover £550,000 chunk of client’s estate struck off

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Ex-Penningtons Manches lawyer accepted his independence had become compromised

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A top private client lawyer who used his position as the sole executor of a will to increase the amount of inheritance received by an associate he was having an affair with has been booted out of the profession.

Until August 2012, Anthony Reese Whitwell — who was a partner at the Surrey office of Penningtons Manches at the time — was in a “confidential personal relationship” with another lawyer at the firm, referred to only as “Ms F”.

According to a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) judgment published earlier this week, Ms F introduced her mother’s friend, “Mrs JDB”, to Penningtons in 2010, so the firm could help her get her will in order.

In January 2011, Whitwell — who qualified as a solicitor in 1983 — was asked by Ms F to advise Mrs JDB in connection with a review of her will. The SDT report reveals Whitwell did not disclose to Mrs JDB that he was having an affair with Ms F.

Fast forward to October 2011, Mrs JDB passed away and Whitwell — who was still in a relationship with Ms F — drafted a deed that allowed him to act as the sole executor of the will. He then proceeded to hand over a £550,000 chunk of Mrs JDB’s estate, made up of cash, jewellery and other possessions, to his lover. Ms F should — in accordance with the will — have only received a £50,000 slice of the estate.

The judgment states Whitwell ended his relationship with Ms F in August 2012 and subsequently told his wife about the affair. Ms F left Penningtons soon after.

Whitwell’s actions came back to haunt him in December 2012 when a compliance officer at the firm — suspecting something wasn’t quite right — reported the matter to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

Fortunately, Penningtons was able to correct Whitwell’s actions. After Ms F agreed “to execute a deed of variation to return the funds to the estate”, another firm was instructed to re-distribute Mrs JDB’s possessions and cash as she had intended.

Whitwell accepted that he had acted dishonestly and had failed to act with integrity. The lawyer’s admissions meant that a full disciplinary hearing was not required. Scott Allen of 4 New Square, representing Whitwell, told the tribunal:

[His] focus now was on preserving his improved mental state and rebuilding his relationship with his wife. He no longer wished to practise as a solicitor and had no desire to face a contested hearing which raked over these issues which had already caused him and his family much pain. He wished to put the chapter of his life to which this these allegations related, and about which he was ashamed, behind him.

The SDT said because of the serious nature of Whitwell’s misconduct, striking him off the roll was “clearly appropriate”. He also agreed to pay costs of £56,500.