Northern Ireland news

Solicitor jailed after stealing £1m from law firm and clients to fund horse-racing

Graham Keys

A SOLICITOR who stole almost £1m from both his law firm and its clients for almost a decade to fund a "obsessive interest" in horse-racing, was jailed yesterday for two years and three months.

Sentencing Graham Keys, Judge Neil Rafferty QC told the 64-year old that his offending had an impact on both his former firm, his former partners and the confidence of the legal profession as a whole.

Father-of-three Keys, from Lurgan Road in Glenavy, was sacked from his role as a partner with Diamond Herron Solicitors as soon as his offending emerged in August 2015.

Over a period spanning from March 2006 to July 2015, Keys helped himself to £856,714.89 from the clients account and to £83,931.01 from the company's account, amounting to a total of £940,646.80.

Belfast Crown Court heard Keys had an interest in "the purchase, breeding and training of horses which allowed him access to a social life which might otherwise not have been accessible to him."

He admitted a total of 21 charges consisting of 19 counts of fraud by abuse of position, nine counts of false accounting and two counts of theft.

Before sentencing Crown prosecutor David Russell said that over a period of almost ten years, Keys was able to use his position in the law firm to create false documents and false entries to try and conceal his offending.

It began to emerge however in August 2015 when police made the company aware of suspicious activity in relation to a cheque from a client's account being lodged into Keys' personal account.

Keys had been a partner since 2001, and when police alerted the firm, an internal audit was launched. At this stage, Keys admitted lodging two cheques from the client account into his own account, and was immediately expelled.

Mr Russell said as a result of Keys offending, the remaining four partners ploughed £50,000 each of their own money into the firm as an "immediate reaction, to try and maintain the confidence of its clients."

Judge Rafferty heard there was "no prospect of repayment" from Keys, who has since been declared bankrupt.

Defence barrister Frank O'Donoghue QC said Keys "accepted unequivocally" that he was responsible for "creating havoc with his own firm."

Judge Rafferty described Keys as a "highly gifted and capable solicitor" who used his "legal knowledge and ability" to "systematically siphon" funds using "camouflage and concealment" over a prolonged period.

The Judge said he accepted the money stolen by Keys was used to "indulge his almost obsessive interest in horses and horse-racing" and the associated lifestyle that came with it.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe from just £1 to get full access

Northern Ireland news