Determining Liability After Property Fraud

For Sale - No strings attached

P&P Property Limited v (1) Owen White & Catlin LLP and (2) Crownvent Limited t/a Winkworth [2016] EWHC 2276 (Ch) ("P&P")


In this case a legitimate and unfortunate purchaser was unable to recover its losses resulting from a fraudulent transaction where the fraudster had disappeared with the money.

The Court found that neither the seller's solicitors nor the estate agents were liable as they had not given an express warranty as to the identity of the seller. It also refused to impose a duty of care on estate agents in respect of purchasers.

The case gives a useful insight on warranties of authority and their application to solicitors and estate agents. It also considers the extent to which solicitors and estate agents are liable to ascertain the true identities of their clients. It should sound a warning note for anyone who is considering purchasing property to ensure that these checks are carried out and to consider whether warranties should be sought.

It should be noted that various legal issues were considered by the Court. This article focusses on P&P's claim for breach of warranty of authority and negligence.

The facts

An imposter posing as the legitimate owner of a property in Hammersmith (the "Property") instructed Winkworth estate agents and solicitors Owen White & Catlin ("OWC") to sell the Property. Both OWC and Winkworth believed they were acting for the legitimate owner.

Winkworth contacted P&P to ask if P&P would be interested in purchasing the Property. A sale was agreed and OWC duly met with an individual whom they believed to be the legitimate owner. In fact, it was a fraudster.

OWC carried out anti-money laundering and Know Your Client enquiries and took a copy of what they believed to be the true owner's passport, utility bill and bank statement. Winkworth did not carry out any anti-money laundering enquiries.

P&P transferred £1,030,000 to OWC towards the purchase price and eventually the net sale proceeds were transferred to the fraudster's account in Dubai.

P&P began to start carrying out renovation works to the Property. Only at this point did the true owner become aware of the situation, and the fraud was discovered. Unfortunately for P&P, by this stage, both the fraudster and the funds had disappeared.

Breach of Warranty of Authority

One of the key areas of law relevant to fraud which was considered by the Court was breach of warranty of authority. The Court considered whether OWC...

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