A disgraced Bradford solicitor, who stole more than a million pounds from his clients, was today starting a six-year prison sentence.
John Fitzpatrick evaded justice for 12 years after going on the run, but he was extradited from South Africa last year.
Yesterday, Fitzpatrick, 66, was jailed after pleading guilty to theft and fraud charges involving a total of £1,157,000.
His crimes included the theft of funds entrusted to him by clients who were buying or selling a home.
One of his victims was left jobless and homeless after Fitzpatrick stole money intended for the purchase of a home and business.
Another arrived to move into a home he thought he had bought, only to find Fitzpatrick had stolen the funds.
He also stole money entrusted to him for investment, on the false promise of high returns, which he appropriated for his own purposes.
Fitzpatrick, formerly of Halifax Road, Liversedge, was also the instigator, prime mover and principal beneficiary of a mortgage fraud, and acted as a facilitator in another mortgage fraud involving forged documents and identity theft. Six people were jailed in 2004 for their roles in the mortgage frauds.
He disappeared in 2001 after police started an investigation into the swindling of £1.5m of clients’ money by the Bradford law firm where he worked, TI Clough and Company.
He was not traced until 2011 when intelligence led investigators to South Africa. He was arrested by the South African authorities in May last year, while using the alias John Cooper, and remanded in custody.
An order was granted for him to be surrendered to the UK authorities, and West Yorkshire Police officers helped to bring him back to Britain.
In November he pleaded guilty to two charges of obtaining money transfers by deception and seven charges of theft between 1997 and 2001.
Jailing him at Sheffield Crown Court yesterday, Judge Robert Moore said: “John Fitzpatrick joined with others in two quite spectacular mortgage frauds.
“The final theft deserved special mention as John Fitzpatrick was so desperate for money at that stage, to avoid an inevitable investigation, he stole £100,000 of clients’ money.”
A Serious Fraud Office spokesman said yesterday: “All of the offending that he has pleaded guilty to involved offences against his clients, acting in breach of the trust that they placed in him as their solicitor.
“His imprisonment is the final stage in a successful investigation and prosecution conducted by the SFO in conjunction with West Yorkshire Police.”
TI Clough was closed down by the Law Society before Fitzpatrick fled. Three lawyers with the company, including Fitzpatrick, were struck off following a disciplinary tribunal in 2002.
West Yorkshire Police and the Serious Fraud Office mounted an international search for Fitzpatrick and in 2004 fraud investigators renewed an appeal to Bradford people to help them track him down, and a missing client.
The appeal followed the jailing of six people, including Shipley chartered accountant Howard Clayton, for a total of 16 years for mortgage fraud, relating to conveyancing work TI Clough did.