Pillar of society cheated his grieving clients out of £3m
July 14, 2005
By Simon de Bruxelles
PHILIP HUXTABLE was a respected family solicitor with his own practice and a pillar of his North Devon community.
He was the clerk of his parish council, the president of the Rotary Club and the provincial grandmaster of Freemasons in the South West.
If anyone was to be trusted with the affairs of the recently bereaved, the families who retained his services believed it would be him. His clients, many of whose parents and grandparents had also retained his services, trusted him so much that he was able to steal up to £3 million of inheritances from them before anyone raised the alarm.
Yesterday Huxtable’s life of deceit came to an end when he was jailed for 3½ years.
Although the 11 charges of theft involved less than £300,000, investigators say that he stole at least ten times that much.
The Law Society has already paid out £2.6 million compensation to 250 families, with 15 claims still to be settled.
Bournemouth Crown Court was told that Huxtable over-charged on a staggering scale, on one occasion billing a client £60,000 for an hour’s work. He charged another client £1,000 for a single phone call. He even charged for arranging a funeral which took place before his services had been retained.
Huxtable, 58, was able to get away with it because his clients were dealing with the affairs of recently deceased relatives and were grateful for the assistance of a trusted family solicitor to help sort out complex matters of inheritance and probate.
The court heard that at first Huxtable, from Barnstaple, overcharged to keep his business afloat, but found it so easy that he was soon enjoying expensive cars and foreign holidays. His comfortable life began to unravel in 2001 when a complaint was made to the Law Society.
Harry Sleeman, a fraud investigator with Devon and Cornwall police, said: “What he did was the same as a builder who comes round, offers to fix a roof tile and charges you a fortune for work he doesn’t do.”
Huxtable used a number of tactics to fool his clients. He would invoice them for the same work twice, even when there was little or no work done. He also took money from accounts, burying the invoice in files to make the books look in order.
His victims included Christine Tucker, whose husband Paul, 42, died in a car accident in 1997. Mrs Tucker, 48, from Shirlwell, Devon, was left virtually penniless with four young children to bring up.
Huxtable stole £18,200 left by her husband, then gave her £500 to buy a car, pretending it was out of his own pocket.
She said: “We went to Huxtable because he was our family solicitor for years. I completely trusted him. I thought what a kind chap he was as he let us have £500 to buy the car.”
Huxtable claimed that he had been under extreme pressure because of the amount of probate he had to deal with and this may have caused him to make mistakes. His firm, Pitts Tucker, was closed by the Law Society in 2001 and he was struck off a year later.
Geoffrey Negus, spokesman for the Law Society, said: “His conduct was disgraceful. He was a convincing conman who abused the trust put in his hands by hundreds of clients.” Margaret Ridd, a retired school teacher who lost the inheritance left to her by an aunt, said: “I don’t think the sentence reflects the suffering of his victims. We heard in court a lot about his suffering but not about those of his victims. He was making money out of the dead.”
Joe Tucker, of the Pitts Tucker Action Group, which represents Huxtable’s victims, said the solicitor had shattered the trust of a community. “He has cheated people who have known him for years, and known their fathers or mothers before them. It was an appalling breach of trust.”