Right Intentions or Wrong Actions?

A solicitor who deliberately broke professional rules by releasing confidential client files so as to help convict a murderer has agreed to stop practicing and to leave Law.

Solicitor Stephen Chittenden deliberately broke professional rules by releasing confidential client files was the key to solving the murder of a teenage girl who was stabbed to death in 1978 in Barrow-Upon-Trent near Derby as she walked home. The information which was handed over led to the conviction of the killer and in doing so prevented a miscarriage of justice. However, in handing over the documentation, he automatically breached client confidentiality and in doing so, the Solicitors Regulation Authority became involved.

In 1978, Lynn Siddons 16, was strangled and stabbed with her body being found in bushes near the Trent and Mersey Canal.. Roy Brookes was only 15 at the time and a neighbour and friend of Lynn had allegedly confessed to the crime and was subsequently charged. However, following the Court case, Roy was acquitted as evidence emerged that his step-father Michael Brookes was involved. In 1996 that Michael was convicted of the murder and is now serving a life sentence.

Some years after the murder, Lynn’s family commenced an action again Michael Brookes which resulted in him being liable and also awarding damages to the estate. Confidential papers were then released by Mr Chittenden to the solicitors of Lynn’s family. These papers not only contained evidence about Michael gathered from his step-son Roy and as  a result, paved the way for the conviction of Michael Brookes but also brought a civil claim against Mr Chittenden’s own client Roy Brookes, however he was eventually found not liable.

Mr Chittenden previously confirmed that in 1991 that he had not received specific instructions from Roy to release the file. He further admitted acting improperly and in breach of his duties of confidentiality ‘accepts and admits that these actions were extremely serious breaches of, in particular, his duty of confidentiality to his client and constituted conduct that is completely unacceptable on the part of a solicitor’.

The SRA had accused Mr Chittenden of ‘utterly unacceptable conduct’ and had he not admitted breaching confidentially and stood down, he certainly would have risked being struck off. Mr Chittenden advised that his then actions had resulted from pressure from local MP as well as the family’s solicitors and the press to disclose the documents. His decision was not one of not “personal gain”. Following on from over 40 years service, Mr Chittenden has since retired from Law due to ill  health however speaking recently about matters, he confirmed that his mind said “you have to do this” and whilst he always risked serious repercussions, he was ‘proud’ of what he did and  was ‘in the greater interests of justice’.

He undertook to remove his name from the roll and not seek to return to work in the profession.

Written by Jason Green - Senior Costs Draftsman

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