Barrister with out-of-control finances who stole £70,000 jailed

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A leading criminal barrister who took more than £70,000 from his own chambers after his sideline property business fell into “financial carnage” has been jailed for three years in Leeds.

David Friesner, 46, admitted taking £72,500 from 9 St John Street Chambers, in Manchester, after his finances spiralled out of control in early 2008, Leeds Crown Court heard.

A judge heard that Friesner had a property business of almost 20 houses valued at around £7.5m in 2008, with just under £1m of mortgages.

When the credit crunch began to hit lending institutions that year, his problems began to mount – especially as he had up to £1m in unsecured loans he had used to finance the refurbishment of properties.

The court was told that Friesner became increasingly desperate, taking out crippling bridging loans, some charging 2 per cent a week.

At this point, the judge heard, Friesner convinced the chambers’ finance director to forward him a series of 12 payments, telling her they were loans.

Friesner had no authority to demand the cash and, the court heard, never had any prospect of paying it back.

Jailing Friesner, Mr Justice Singh said: “You, perhaps more than anyone else, ought to have known what you were doing was both dishonest and unlawful.

“You have brought dishonour upon an honourable profession and shame upon yourself.”

Friesner was called to the bar in 1988 and moved to 9 St John Street in 1997, becoming deputy head of the 79-member chambers.

John Beggs QC, defending, handed in testimonials from colleagues across the legal profession. He said his client had an exceptional 20-year career and had been heading towards becoming a QC and even a judge.

Mr Beggs talked at length about the devastation Friesner faced by never being able to practise again.

“How much more punishment is really required?” he said.

Mr Beggs also emphasised how his client’s problems developed out of the 2008 financial crisis.

But the judge pointed out that many people in this country and around the world have been affected by the financial downturn, without resorting to criminal activities.

Friesner, of Bury New Road, Prestwich, Greater Manchester, who is married with daughters aged five and eight, admitted taking the cash between October 1, 2008 and November 25, 2009.

Last month, the Bar Standards Board said it was “revisiting its timelines for urgent suspensions” after it emerged Friesner had been representing clients in court between his guilty plea to the charges and yesterday’s sentencing.