- Keith Flavell was struck off after tribunal found he encouraged his brother to lie
A solicitor who helped con a wealthy barrister into buying a £1million home without revealing the previous owners had been involved in a bitter neighbour dispute has been struck off.
Keith Flavell encouraged his younger brother, Jeremy, to conceal the extent of rows he had had with neighbours over a hedge and a shared driveway when selling the property in the Mole Valley area of Surrey, a tribunal found.
A Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing was told the disagreements were so severe that police had been called to the property on one occasion in 2013.
When Jeremy Flavell and his wife, Sarah, decided to sell the property they revealed only a ‘fraction’ of the dispute for feat that potential buyers would be put off, as advised by Keith Flavell.
The new owners, Andrew and Caroline Fulton, then found themselves embroiled in disagreements with the same neighbours, having not been informed of previous rows.
Mr Fulton, a barrister, then sued Keith Flavell’s firm for the ‘grossly misleading’ information he and his wife had received before agreeing to purchase the property, winning compensation of almost £400,000.
Nearly a decade later, Mr Fulton has now had Keith Flavell, a solicitor of 40 years, barred from the profession after bringing a rare private prosecution against him, proving that he had helped to deliberately mislead them.
Keith Flavell (pictured) encouraged his brother, Jeremy, to conceal the extent of rows he had had with neighbours over a hedge and a shared driveway when selling the property
Andrew Fulton, a barrister, sued Keith Flavell’s firm for the ‘grossly misleading’ information he and his wife had received before agreeing to purchase the property, winning compensation of almost £400,000
The hearing was told that Mr Flavell’s brother Jeremy and sister-in-law Sarah bought the property that was part of a sub-divided large Victorian home in 2011. But over the next three years, they had a series of disputes with their neighbours over a hedge, shared driveway, and a shared sewage unit.
‘Strikingly hostile and abusive’ correspondence was exchanged as a result, the tribunal heard.
In legal letters, Jeremy Flavell and his wife complained about a 5mph speed limit their former neighbours imposed on the driveway, and over their refusal to pay their share of the cost of emptying the sewage unit.
On one occasion, the police were called to the property over the cutting of a hedge without permission and one of the neighbours was briefly arrested.
Ahead of taking legal action, Jeremy Flavell and his wife wrote to the neighbours: ‘If you stop behaving with such arrogance and rudeness, ignoring our rights under the property deeds, then I’m sure we can have a more harmonious and neighbourly relationship.
‘We hope you have the good sense to reflect on this and that no further criminal or civil action is required to protect our rights.’
Instead of pursuing the case, the couple decided to sell the property and agreed a price with Mr and Mrs Fulton in July 2014.
As part of the sale, Jeremy and his wife were required to full in a legal questionnaire detailing whether they had experienced any ‘disputes or complaints’ during their time living there. It was then that Jeremy emailed his brother, Keith, asking for advice on how to complete the Sellers Property Information Form (SPIF).
The sale of the property in the Mole Valley area of Surrey was completed in December 2014
The tribunal heard that Jeremy Flavell (pictured) emailed his brother, Keith, asking for advice on how to complete the Sellers Property Information Form (SPIF)
The tribunal heard that Keith Flavell, who was the Managing Partner of the firm Harold Benjamin, based in Harrow, north west London at the time, ‘made suggestions’ which he wrote on the SPIF which included a ‘partial account’ of one of the areas of dispute, and made no mention of other ‘areas of contention’.
The form stated only that their gardener had ‘inadvertently’ trimmed the neighbours hedge which had prompted a complaint.
It also declared ‘no’ on the question: ‘Is the seller aware of anything which might lead to a dispute about the property or a property nearby?’
The sale of the property to Mr and Mrs Fulton was completed in December 2014.
The hearing was told that from May 2016, Mr and Mrs Fulton began to have ‘difficulties’ with the same neighbours which had a ‘significant impact’ on their enjoyment of their new home.
The couple then began to make enquiries into what Jeremy and Sarah Flavell and their solicitors had know prior to the sale of the property, which resulted in Mr and Mrs Fulton winning £385,000 in a settlement with firm Harold Benjamin.
Mr and Mrs Fulton also brought a private prosecution against Keith Flavell, accusing him of breaching the rules of his professional regulator, the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Mr Fulton, who represented himself at the tribunal, told the hearing any prospective buyer would have been ‘horrified’ to read the correspondence between the former neighbours.
Keith Flavell had insisted he was not the official conveyancing solicitor and that he had just been trying to help his brother. He admitted the SPIF wording was a ‘half truth’ but denied that it was misleading.
Keith Flavell had insisted he was not the official conveyancing solicitor and that he had just been trying to help his brother. He admitted the SPIF wording was a ‘half truth’ but denied that it was misleading
The tribunal found the Flavell’s had only disclosed a ‘fraction’ of the extent of the hedge dispute and had made no mention of the issues relating to the driveway and sewage unit.
Finding Keith Flavell guilty of dishonesty, the tribunal said of the neighbours dispute: ‘The correspondence had been ill-tempered and hostile.
‘The hedge issue had led to the police being called and the neighbour being briefly arrested and the issues taken together had formed the basis of planned litigation against the neighbours.
‘It was irrelevant who was to blame in each of these disputes – the fact is they fell squarely within the definition of ‘disputes and complaints’ that the (questionnaire) asked about.
‘The result of answering in this way created a false impression as to the existence, nature and extent of any previous issues and as to the potential (or lack of it) in relation to future disputes.’
The tribunal concluded Keith Flavell had encouraged his brother to lie.
‘Mr Flavell had known of the complaints and disputes, he knew that Jeremy and Sarah Flavell were keen to sell and that they were keen for the history of complaints and disputes not to get in the way of that,’ it said.
‘Mr Flavell was aware that his suggestions on the (questionnaire) were false and misleading and that he had encouraged Jeremy to lie to the purchasers..’
The solicitor was also found to have withheld what he knew of the disputes from colleagues at his firm so the sale of the property would not be jeopardised.
Striking him off, the panel concluded: ‘The misconduct was planned. This was not a ‘spur of the moment’ incident.
‘Had it been so, there were ample opportunities for Mr Flavell to have changed course. He had not done so and had instead taken active steps to perpetuate and conceal his dishonesty.’
Keith Flavell also ordered to pay legal costs of £29,750.00.
Speaking afterwards Mr Fulton said: ‘I just wanted some accountability. I thought (what he did) was wrong in principle. It’s unfortunate it’s taken so long. It was a pretty stressful process.
‘It’s amazing how stressful neighbour disputes can be. It’s had a happy ending and we’ve got delightful new neighbours now.’
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