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Former Cobbetts partners fined by SDT for their role in firm’s downfall

Six former Cobbetts partners have been fined by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) after an admission of failings relating to the firm’s high-profile collapse in 2013.

The six partners – which includes former managing partner Nicholas Carr and senior partner Stephen Benson – were found to be in breach of Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) principles by failing to enact an appropriate contingency plan. All six were referred to the SDT last year following allegations of providing misleading information and exhibiting manifest incompetence.
The fines range from £12,500 to 17,500, however all six were instructed to pay costs of up to £35,000. Mark Gibson, Paul Brown and Benson are partners at DWF, which rescued Cobbetts from the depths of administration through a pre-pack acquisition deal in 2013.

Carr and Brown admitted to failing to deal with the SRA in an ‘open, timely and co-operative manner. Meanwhile Benson, Mark Gibson and Richard Webb joined them in admitting they ‘failed to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in solicitors’.

When the allegations were first brought forward in May 2017, all six partners denied any wrongdoing, stating they acted: ‘appropriately and with propriety throughout.’ The STD confirmed this in its decision, stating that although serious, none of the breaches were deliberate or reckless, nor did they reflect any dishonesty among the former Cobbetts board members.

Gibson represented himself while the other five were represented by Timothy Dutton QC, Marianne Butler of Fountain Court Chambers and Weightmans solicitor Michelle Garlick.

Manchester stalwart Cobbetts experienced cash flow problems as a legacy of the financial crisis of 2008, which the SDT noted in mitigation on behalf of the respondents. It said: ‘The financial pressures on the firm during the relevant period involved a myriad of issues and challenges and placed enormous demand son each of the relevant respondents’

Webb and Green are now consultants at TLT and Gateley respectively, while Carr assumed a consultancy role at DWF in February 2016.