Solicitors who provided conveyancing services to thousands of store pod investors, have been banned from acting as solicitors for life following a tribunal hearing.
Margaret and Clem Hetherington, of Wirral based The Hetherington Partnership, carried out conveyancing for investments in storage units or parking spaces from Group First.
The brother and sister partnership assisted around 7,500 people between 2011 and 2017 before the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) intervened. This reportedly accounted for 70% of their business and earned them around £3m.
They were also ordered to pay £98k in costs and were described as being “manifestly incompetent, reckless and dishonest”
The Hetheringtons were recommended as Group First’s “preferred solicitors” in the sales brochures.
According to reports from the tribunal they “deliberately did not concern themselves with the interests of clients, preferring instead to make money from their work”
They charged each client £600 for their services which were described as a “quick paper exercise”.
Store First, owned by the Group First group, was an investment in storage units which would generate returns from the rental income.
However, people weren’t actually buying the storage units themselves but were investing in complicated leases.
Some people were promised returns as high as 8% and told they could sell the pods back. Neither of which turned out to be true. In fact, people were hit with bills for business rates and ground rents.
Many people were introduced to Store First through unregulated introducers, such as Liverpool based Jackson Francis who received a reported £33m from Store first in commissions. They were also part of an undercover documentary which filmed some sales agents forging documents.
Store first was subject to a high court petition to wind up in 2019 and in January 2020 official receivers began selling off some assets.
Park First was a similar initiative but involved parking spaces rather than storage pods.
In August 2021 the FCA said that Group First boss Toby Whittaker had agreed to pay back investors’ money on condition he would not be prosecuted.
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