A FORMER Carlisle solicitor who faked the signatures of two clients as he helped them to buy a house has admitted forgery and fraud.

Martin Burnett, 51, appeared before a district judge at the city’s Rickergate court, where he entered guilty pleas to the two allegations. The now former solicitor committed the offences in May 2011 after a couple asked him to deal with the legalities of buying a house.

Prosecutor Amy Labram told the court that Burnett had originally acted for the couple in March 2007 when they bought a barn conversion for £330,000.

Four years later, said Miss Labram, the couple, Barbara and Lawrence Duffy, wanted to move and asked the defendant for a copies of the title deeds to their home.

“They repeatedly asked for copies of these,” said the prosecutor.

Despite them successfully selling their home on a number of occasions, buyers repeatedly pulled out at the last minute. In 2011, having not received the title deeds from Burnett, they threatened to go to the Law Society.

It later emerged that Burnett had not registered their home with the Land Registry until 2014, and that the property was subject to a legal restriction - known as an overage clause.

Miss Labram said: “Mrs Duffy said that if she had known about the overage clause she would not have gone ahead with the purchase.”

When the couple were shown the Land Registry documents purportedly signed by them, they confirmed that the signatures on them were not genuine.

Prosecutors have not suggested that Burnett, of School Road, Cumwhinton, near Carlisle, forged the signatures to make a financial gain.

It is thought he did this to cover up a mistake he had made in the conveyancing process for the couple.

District Judge Gerald Chalk sent the case to Carlisle Crown Court for a sentencing hearing on March 16.

He told Burnett: “The defendant was instructed by the victims to deal with a property purchase. In that relationship, there is naturally a degree of trust.

“They hadn’t been informed about the overage clause, and the property wasn’t registered for seven years after the property was purchased. It was a deliberate breach of trust.”

Last year, Burnett was put before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) and struck off for his misconduct over five years.

That hearing was told his misconduct was deliberate, calculated and repeated and had continued for a considerable period of time”. A panel said he had breached his position of trust and the obligations bestowed on him by the Solicitors’ Code of Conduct 2007 and the SRA Principles 2011. He resigned from the firm he worked for in 2016.

* The News & Star is happy to point out that Martin Burnett was not employed by, nor did he ever work for, the Carlisle based firm Burnetts Solicitors.