It didn’t really have the makings of a Fleet Street story. A vastly complicated and technical fraud, a multi-faceted and baffling case and homely, ordinary victims.
And yet the story of how an East End couple and their lawyer battled a seemingly incomprehensible and often Kafkaesque legal system, made the pages of the Sunday Telegraph and forced the authorities to recompense the unfortunate victims within a month.
The couple, Zangir and Nazmin Mehrban thought they had bought their dream home last June. Lawyers acting for them sent £410,000 by bank transfer to West End law company Austin Law, which was handling the sale.
The money should have paid off the vendor’s £270,000 mortgage as well as £110,000 of debts borrowed against the house. The rest should have gone to the vendor and on legal fees.
In fact the money went missing and the first they knew was when Bailiffs hammered on the door of their new house demanding they leave as there were debts secured against it from the previous owner.
What transpired was, in a nutshell, that they had no legal claim over the house and their money had gone missing. And no real way of recovering it.
Luckily they took legal advice; Good legal advice, from Southend firm BTMK and in particular dogged partner Nitin Khandia.
Nitin ploughed through the paperwork, contacted the Solicitors Regulation Authority and slowly began to unravel the complex series of events that took in a Metals Exchange in Manchester, a struck-off West End law firm and a low key police investigation.
He also had the foresight to enlist the services of Byfield Consultancy, specialists in Legal and Litigation PR and Reputation Management, in the hope publicity might stir the authorities into action and help shed light on the case.
But who would have the time and energy, in these days of journalistic churn and rewrites, to spend days unravelling such a story?
So Byfield called up Rob Mendick, Cambridge educated Chief Reporter at the Sunday Telegraph whose uncanny ability to see the wood through the trees and cut out extraneous information has seen him win multiple awards over the years.
There was a meeting at Byfield’s central London offices. Nitin went through the details. Mendick took notes. The struck off West End law firm was clearly at the heart of the matter.
“What’s this senior partner like?” Mendick asked. We replied “Not been practising very long. Active on Facebook.”
Mendick snapped into action. Photos were found of the partner (now missing), details of the firm’s ignominious striking off were found. He talked to people. Three days later under the headline “Missing Millions and the Vanishing lawyer,” he wrote.
“Deidre Newell-Austin had the legal world at her feet. Not yet 40, she ran her own central London law firm and even had a stake in a construction company.
Posing for photographs on the London Eye, Miss Newell-Austin was every inch the glamorous lawyer in the making.
But it has all come crashing down. Her firm, Austin Law, is now at the centre of an official investigation into millions of pounds missing from clients’ accounts. The alleged fraud is one of the largest ever investigated by the solicitors’ watchdog. Police are also involved.
It centres on the disappearance of £3.6 million from at least 15 alleged victims, and has prompted a series of legal actions.”
Mendick later quoted Nitin and the Mehrbans at length, explaining their situation and highlighting the injustice of their situation.
But today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip-paper, right? Not a bit of it. One month later the Solicitors Compensation Authority have fully compensated the Merhbans and BTMK have had their fees paid in full.
“That’s the power of the press!” Nitin told Mendick this week.
With a little help from Byfield Consultancy and some well executed Litigation PR, we like to think.