England

Unqualified Peacehaven barrister jailed for fraud

David Abbott leaving court
Image caption David Abbott had not fully qualified as a barrister when he offered to represent his victims

A unqualified barrister who fraudulently charged families of children with special needs thousands of pounds has been jailed.

David Abbott, 50, had advertised himself as a "boutique barrister" specialising in educational tribunals.

But, Lewes Crown Court heard, he was only partly qualified and should not have used the title.

Abbot, of Peacehaven, Sussex, who had admitted six counts of fraud, was jailed for two years and three months.

Ron Birchall paid £8,500 to hire Abbot, because his son, Jack, who has dyslexia and dyscalcula, could not progress in a mainstream school.

He and his wife wanted to send Jack to a special school, he said, but knew the case would go to tribunal, where the family would face a local authority barrister.

Image caption Ron Birchall said the family hired Abbott in order to have "a level playing field"

They met Brighton-based Abbott, whose website said he specialised in educational tribunals.

Mr Birchall said he Abbot had agreed to present their case, but did not turn up on the day of the hearing, leaving the family to represent themselves.

"We turned up in London for this tribunal in front of a High Court judge and the opposition were there, with a barrister, an educational psychologist, special needs teacher - and there was us," said Mr Birchall.

The court heard Abbott, who admitted six counts of dishonestly making false representation for personal gain, advertised his services online and took at least £11,000 from at least three families from Sussex, Nottinghamshire and Warwickshire.

His business partner Richard Hayes, 50, also of Arundel Road, Peacehaven, was ordered to do 250 hours unpaid work for failing to correct the impression that he too was entitled to act as a barrister.

Sussex Police said all three families had asked Abbott and Hayes to represent them in family court proceedings for special educational needs tribunals for their young children.

After sentencing, Det Con Brad Lozynski, said the pair had exploited vulnerable and trusting families who had simply searched the internet for specialist legal advice.

He said: "They gave every appearance of being genuine but at the last minute failed to attend court, leaving the victims high and dry with no valid legal advice and having incurred considerable expense."

Image caption Abbott sold himself as a specialist education barrister and advertised his services online

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