Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!
Thanks to Herald Scotland, we are now getting a chronology of who did what to whom, and when. We know some of the why — the love of money is the root of all evil — and some of the how.
It all started in July 2012. Solicitor Christopher Hales, one-time partner in Grigor Hales, solicitors, of Dalry Road, Edinburgh, was inspected by the Law Society. As a result, questions were raised over thirteen bits of property business. A month later the inspection report went to the Law Society guarantee fund sub-committee (GFSC), and in September 2012 the GFSC suspended Hales’ certificate to practice, and proceeded to prosecute him before the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal (SSDT).
Then everything goes into slo-mo. When there’s a serial bureaucracy as Byzantine as this one, what else can we expect? Except for one small, but worth-noticing detail: in October 2013 Sheila Kirkwood was appointed secretary to the GFSC. What we see in this sorry saga is how close the circles of power and influence are in modern Scotland. As Thomas Dibdin had it, in a broader context:
O, it ’s a snug little island!
A right little, tight little island!
Search the globe round, none can be found
So happy as this little island.
For Mrs Kirkwood was well-ensconced inside the SNP tent:
the Law Society’s chief executive, Lorna Jack, took the unusual step of arranging a hurried press conference to defend her organisation’s handling of the affair, and the conduct of Sheila Kirkwood, who is secretary to the society guarantee fund sub-committee which handled the Hales case but had delayed handing the papers over to the Crown Office.
It emerged that Kirkwood was, with her husband and fellow solicitor Paul Kirkwood, a founder of the pro-independence campaign Lawyers for Yes, and as an active nationalist had attended dinners for Thomson’s pro-independence campaign Business for Scotland. Kirkwood had also “liked” Thomson on her Facebook page.
Don’t skim too lightly over Lorna Jack, either. She has a small plate-load of public appointments, courtesy of the the SNP government.
In 2014 the glacier started to move:
- On 14th January, a full eighteen months after that first inspection, the Council of the Law Society lodged a complaint with the SSDT requesting an investigation into Hales.
- On 13th May, Paul Marshall, the Law Society fiscal attended the SSDT hearing on the Hales case. The “accused” (or whatever periphrasis one prefers) Hales responded by e-mail to say he accepted the “averments of professional misconduct”.
- In July, now two years into the epic, the Law Society published “interim findings” and a statement that Hales “must have been aware that there was a possibility that he was facilitating mortgage fraud”. Ian Smart has a superb account of these doings on his blog, nicely explaining what mortgage fraud involves, and stating
Mr Hales was found to have assisted in mortgage fraud in no less than thirteen transactions for which he ultimately appeared before the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal on 13th may 2014 and was then struck off as a solicitor.
It’s all in the judgement which, despite its length I encourage you to read in full. Numerous examples of failing to inform lenders of undisclosed deposits, including examples of Mr Hales personally returning these to the purchasers, and several examples of back to backs, all equally undisclosed to the lenders.
But Mr Hales was not the principal actor here, he was simply the facilitator.
The principal actor, time and time again, was a woman referred to in the judgement as Mrs A. Sometimes she acts directly, on others she provides a third party deposit in exchange for a “fee”.
- On 31st October 2014 the SSDT published its annual report, which mentions the Hales case.
- On 18th December, in a regular quarterly meeting, Ian Messer, the Law Society’s director of financial compliance, “informally” told the Crown Office about the Hales case, apparently not including the names of the clients, or presumably fingering “Mrs A”. Which is odd because of whom we now know “Mrs A” to be: a poster-girl for the SNP, a prospective parliamentary candidate, and more. Ian Smart, again:
in May 2014, when the Tribunal decision was issued, Michelle Thomson was something approaching a national figure as one of the public faces of the SNP front organisation Business for Scotland. Indeed, at first appearance, one of the few genuine business people involved with that organisation, most of the others being little more than jumped up PR men. If her up to the neck involvement in mortgage fraud had come to light just three months before the referendum this would have been disastrous for Yes Scotland, for the SNP by association, but most of all for the economic credibility of the Independence cause.
There’s the hint of the cleft inside the SNP: between the “business-friendly” Alex Salmond wing, and the wannabe social-reform clique around Nicola Sturgeon. To illustrate that further, we’d need to look at the T in the Park bung: as Deep Throat said, “Follow the money”, as we observe the Salmond ☞ Dempsie (partner of Angus Robertson MP) ☞Hyslop (which ought to bring us to the other lingering SNP stink on education) ☞ Geoff Ellis (Salmond’s guest at Ryder Cup) right little, tight little Syphonaptera.
Which almost brings us up to date. This year, 2015, we find:
- On 28th April Ian Messer again finding it necessary to mention “informally” this Hales case at the next quarterly Crown Office meeting, again — it seems — not naming the key names.
- On 7th May, the good citizens of Edinburgh West, kept in ignorance of what was transpiring “behind the arras”, elected Michelle Thomson as their SNP MP.
- On 1st July, having taken a “detailed look” — well, after three years, thats about right — at the Hales case, the Law Society asked the GFSC for approval to refer it to the Crown.
- Following which, prontissimo, on 3rd July, the Law Society formally passed the SSDT’s Hales report to the Crown Office, so at long last all the names are in the frames
- And on 9th July, the Crown instructs Police Scotland to investigate Hales’s property transactions.
By whatever Murdochian means, by the back-end of September 2015, the Sunday Times had that SSDT Hales Report, and the Scottish edition (27th September) went big on naming Michelle Thomson.
Four days later Thomson “surrendered” the SNP Whip, pending police investigations. That was fortunately coincidental for First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who had to answer opposition questioning on 30th September:
… she knew nothing of the allegations until they were reported in the media. But she added: “I am in no doubt whatsoever in my mind that if the allegations — and again I stress the word allegations — are proven to be correct, they will represent behaviour that I find completely unacceptable.”
This is what is known as “throwing someone under a bus”.
The ripples were still spreading:
- On 1st October. Lorna Jack is promising the Law Society will look into why it took so long for the Crown to be advised of the whole Hales mess, and also whether there were any untoward connections between Kirkwood and Thomson.
- On 6th October Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland appeared in the Scottish Parliament:
Mr Mulholland said: … “The police have been instructed to investigate the property transactions related to that finding resulting in the solicitor being struck off.
“Police Scotland have a duty in any criminal investigation to follow the evidence and where that takes them.
“So, if during a police investigation evidence arises that other persons have been involved in criminality and fraud, or whatever crime the police have uncovered evidence of, then Police Scotland, I have complete faith in them, they will act and do the right thing as will the Crown.”
After the Lord Advocate’s appearance, Aamer Anwar, the lawyer acting for Michelle Thomson, said: “Following the Lord Advocate’s statement we must reiterate that we have advised Mrs Thomson that it would be inappropriate to comment on such matters and you will appreciate that she has already volunteered to assist Police Scotland with their investigation, despite no requirement to do so.
“Michelle Thomson maintains that she has always acted within the law.”
Ian Smart’s conclusion minces no words:
… unless the findings of the SSDT are wholly inaccurate, and you will note that the facts were agreed by Mr Hales, Thomson personally is toast. The sentencing guidelines are here. It qualifies for what is commonly known as exemplary sentencing so she’ll probably get several years in jail giving rise to an interesting by-election.
Faced with that lawyerly prognosis, the defendant has just two options:
- take an overnight valise to the sentencing;
- book the first flight out to northern Cyprus or Caracas.
The Thomson can may come, and may go. What will linger is the cesspit aroma that prevails in a one-party state (and Scotland is on that festering wikipedia list). It would be instructive to take all the names in this post, and locate their connections on a spider-chart. Be assured they would all link.
Such is the nature of power in a right little, tight little society.