AN ADVOCATE has been warned he faces jail after being been found guilty of defrauding the Scottish Legal Aid Board out of £11,663.80 and attempting to defraud the Board of another £37,882.
A jury of seven men and seven women at Edinburgh Sheriff Court returned their majority guilty verdict today after four hours of deliberation.
Advocate Mark Strachan had denied falsely claiming travel allowances and mileage fees from the Board on 341 instances between March 9, 2006, and November 16, 2010.
The court heard that when Strachan, who had homes in Old Leslie, Aberdeenshire; Linlithgow, West Lothian, and Edinburgh, was in Aberdeen on business, he would sometimes see a number of people on the same day.
He then charged the Board the full fee of £100 travel allowance and £108,80 mileage for a return journey to the central belt of 272 miles at 40p a mile for each person he saw. He was entitled to have claimed only one travel and mileage allowance.
The Crown held that Strachan was not making the return journey to Linlithgow or Edinburgh every trip, as he claimed, but was staying with his wife at their home in Old Leslie, a distance of some 30 miles from Aberdeen. This was denied by Strachan and his wife, Elaine.
Strachan’s defence counsel, Brian McConnachie QC, had told the jury that his client was no longer practising as an advocate, but was studying for a degree in oil and gas law at Aberdeen University.
Fiscal Depute, Keith O’Mahony, told Sheriff Kenneth Maciver, that Strachan had no previous convictions. He added that the Faculty of Advocates’ financial section had repaid £4509, but nothing more had been received by the Board since September 2011. The Crown, he said, were seeking a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Sheriff Maciver told Strachan, who had displayed no signs of emotion following the verdict, that it had been a serious and significant fraud.
He added: “The Court has to consider, not only the scale and nature of the crime, but also the issue of a breach of trust, because as an advocate you are in a special position”.
The Sheriff warned Strachan: “You must prepare yourself for the possibility the Court may require custody”.
Sheriff Maciver deferred sentence until March 14 for a Social Work report and allowed Strachan bail.
Dismissing the jury, the Sheriff thanked them for their attendance over “two intensive weeks because of the nature and complexity of the case”.
He told them that because it had been a protracted trial they would be excused jury duty until 2025.