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30 May 2012

Corker Binning partner acts for ex-Hogan Lovells partner in major fraud case

Peter Binning, partner, Corker Binning, acted for the ex-Hogan Lovells litigation partner who pleaded guilty to defrauding his firm of £1.27m and was jailed on 30 May 2012 for three years. Mark Ellison QC of QEB Hollis Whiteman was counsel in the case.

Ex-Hogan Lovells partner jailed for three years over £1.27m fraud

Those around him thought he was a shining example of a senior partner, always putting clients first and billing prodigious amounts. But today former Hogan Lovells partner Christopher Grierson was jailed for three years after pleading guilty to defrauding his firm of £1.27m.

The sentence was delivered after mitigation from Grierson’s defence counsel, QEB Hollis Whiteman’s Mark Ellison QC, who told the court how Grierson had been plagued by mental illness and driven to steal in a bid to maintain a stable home life amid reckless spending.

Grierson, who had been a litigation partner at the firm, began falsifying travel expenses at his firm in 2008, when he made false claims totalling £167,000. A year later this escalated to £526,785 and in 2010 he took £516,785. Last year, before the theft was uncovered, he took £63,611 between January and May.

In Southwark Crown Court this morning he was handed four sentences relating to four counts of fraud, one of 15 months, two of 36 months and one of 12 months, to run concurrently. He will serve half the three year sentence, with the remainder suspended. Grierson was also ordered to pay costs of £1,630.

Mitigating, Ellison told the court how Grierson had suffered from depression for many years and how he threw himself into his work to cope. Partner reviews from legacy firm Lovells between 2001 and 2009 described Grierson as an outstanding litigator with a prodigious workload – he billed 3,500 hours in one year – and “a model of how a senior partner should behave”. But cracks were beginning to show and the firm expressed concerns that Grierson was driving himself too hard – concerns that Grierson dismissed. He later agreed to see a psychiatrist linked to the firm.

Grierson’s state deteriorated when the BCCI case that he had worked on for more than 10 years collapsed in November 2005, leaving him with a sense of loss. In 2007 he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder by a psychiatrist he had begun seeing.

At the same time, Grierson’s spending was spiralling out of control. The court heard from Ellison how Grierson had begun using prostitutes in 2003, but in 2006 this “entered into a different league” when he became infatuated with a Lebanese woman in New York. Grierson spent £630,000 on the woman, paying her rent and gifting her £280,000 in cash, among other things.

Grierson would later tell his psychiatrist that he knew the relationship was false and that he was a victim of manipulation, perhaps even a willing victim of manipulation.

Grierson began stealing from his firm in 2008 to continue the appearance of normality in his home life. Ellison admitted that Grierson could have solved his financial problems by selling his properties in England and France, but spoke about his desperation to avoid a similar experience to that of a few years before, when Grierson was forced to sell his UK home and downsize, putting strain on his relationship with his wife, with whom he is now in the middle of divorce proceedings.

It was also revealed in court that Grierson was only able to pay back what he had stolen from the firm when a close associate loaned him the money. He was able to pay back the associate following the sale of his property in France earlier this year.

Sentencing, Judge John Price took account of the fact that Grierson’s fraud was “well-planned and sophisticated” and obtained for him substantial sums, but added that the lawyer’s mental illness provided substantial mitigation. He quoted Grierson’s psychiatrist, who said that his illness impaired his judgement to the extent that he committed “social, sexual and financial indiscretions that were bound to be exposed”.

In a statement today, detective chief inspector Perry Stokes from the City of London Police, who led the investigation into Grierson, said: “Christopher Grierson’s greed was his downfall. He abused his status as a well-respected partner within a high profile law firm to steal more than a million pounds from the firm.

“This was a serious breach of trust and once he started offending, it was inevitable that he would come to our notice. The sentence passed today demonstrates how seriously the court views such cases.”

Grierson was dismissed from Hogan Lovells in 2011 after the fraud was detected (17 May 2011). As he had transferred the expenses to a dormant account, no client money had been affected.

The firm reported Grierson, a former equity partner on an annual profit share of more than £700,000, to the police in June 2011 after it recovered the stolen money (3 June 2011).