Crook solicitor stole £70,000 from helpless disabled client

A MAN once seen as a potential future Tory leader in the Lothians has admitted stealing £70,000 from a disabled man.

Former Conservative councillor for Prestonfield and Mayfield, Iain Catto, 41, who is also a former solicitor, pretended to care for Francis Fleming after he became partially paralysed.

Catto, a member of Lothian Regional Council from 1990 to 1994, had pretended to be a close friend of Mr Fleming, 59, and volunteered to pay his bills and organise his life.

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But he was regularly withdrawing sums up to 15,000 a time from his client's accounts to fund his own lavish lifestyle. He even sold some of his victim's shares.

To cover up his scam, he had all bank statements sent to his home address. Mr Fleming trusted Catto and even gave him a key to his Craigentinny Road home.

Among Catto's purchases were airline tickets, hotel rooms, meals in restaurants, computer software, 300 worth of goods from Oddbins and haircuts costing up to 30.

Earlier this year, Catto contributed to a book of essays edited by Scottish Tory deputy leader Murdo Fraser. Catto's essay called for more personal freedom and the decriminalising of drugs.

Fiscal Depute Alison Innes told Edinburgh Sheriff Court Catto had given up his job as a solicitor in 2002. She said: "The accused had given up a well-paid job and no longer had an income to pay for his comfortable way of life so he just stole regularly from Mr Fleming, who was none the wiser."

The court heard that Catto, of Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh, offered to pay his bills for him. He would also ask Mr Fleming to sign blank cheques saying he would fill in the details later.

Mrs Innes said that Mr Fleming had been the victim of an attempted murder in 1968 and received a large criminal injuries payment. He was partially paralysed, had memory problems and could not work.

Following the death of his father, Mr Fleming turned to a firm of Edinburgh solicitors - where Catto was a trainee - to help handle his financial affairs.

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Catto befriended him and, in 1997, took over the power of attorney from colleagues. He told Mr Fleming that he did not want to accept any payment for the work but would do it as a friend.

"Had it not been for Mr Fleming's son coming home and growing suspicious we can only speculate if the accused would have stopped at all," Mrs Innes told Sheriff Kathrine Mackie.

After Mr Fleming's estranged wife died, he contacted his son in 2003. The son and his family returned to be with Mr Fleming in July 2004.

After the reunion, the group decided to use Mr Fleming's money to move to Spain.

Still trusting the solicitor, they asked Catto to help with the financial affairs wanting to know how much money was available to buy property.

However, Mr Fleming's son started to become suspicious in August 2004, especially after learning that his father signed blank cheques for the solicitor.

He became aware of debit balances on his father's credit card statements.

Mr Fleming's son then arranged for the power of attorney to be transferred to himself to help his father. He got access to bank statements and realised Catto had been stealing from them.

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In court, the former solicitor pleaded guilty to stealing the money between December 2002 and December, 2004. The Court heard that Catto, now of Atholl Crescent, Edinburgh had sold a flat in the city's Broughton Street to repay the stolen cash.

Sheriff Mackie deferred sentence for background reports.