A rush update by IT.
A senior solicitor has been struck off for misconduct which occurred while he was a director at Gowling WLG. The "appalled" firm's CEO has called Oliver Bretherton's treatment of his female colleagues "abhorrent".
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal upheld 70 allegations against Bretherton, reported the Law Gazette.
After leaving Gowling WLG, Bretherton became a banking and finance partner at virtual firm Gunnercooke, which sacked him when the ruling was announced this week.
A large number of complaints from three women were upheld after a mammoth 12 day hearing. With no criminal conviction to rely on, the strike off for sexual misconduct was a landmark judgment by the SDT, and for the SRA. Once the full judgment is provided later in the summer, Bretherton will have 21 days to appeal the ruling.
The majority of the allegations revolved around his relationship with an 18-year-old woman identified as 'Person A'.
A witness said Bretherton described Person A as “the fittest” after interviewing her for a role in his practice, and that the pair flirted when she first joined the firm and kissed during a work night out.
Once she started in her position, Bretherton allegedly told her he wanted to “fuck her, and he would do it in the office, and he didn’t care if there was a glass wall”.
He was accused of setting the woman various sexual tasks for his own gratification, including asking her to sleep with a man she was meeting for a date and text pictures of herself having sex, lobbing ping-pong balls down the front of her dress and ordering her to fetch the ones which missed, and instructing her to masturbate in Gowling WLG’s toilets.
The woman initially “found it funny”, but the tribunal heard that she became increasingly uncomfortable with the then-36-year-old solicitor’s conduct.
He allegedly sent Person A a video of himself masturbating, and attempted to control the young woman outside of work with a “stream of messages” from the moment she woke up, which included demands to know where she was and who she was with.
He “told her what to wear in the office and tried to influence her relationships and who she had sex with” and would even “time her toilet breaks”, said the SRA.
Bretherton defended his behaviour, arguing that his relationship was consensual and that Person A encouraged him.
While he accepted that he sexted her, sent her a video of himself masturbating, requested photos of her touching herself, got turned on discussing her sex life with her in the office, showed her leaked nudes of a Love Island contestant, and discussed her use of a vibrator with her, he rejected other allegations.
Bretherton denied telling Person A he wanted to have sex with her in his office in front of their colleagues, although he said he could not recall whether or not he told her he wanted to “fuck her over a pool table”.
He also maintained that he did not take advantage of his seniority. Person A was “mature and very confident and very vocal in what she wanted me to know about her sex life previously”, he said.
“At the time I believed it was something not only that she wanted to engage with but she was actively encouraging and instigating…I should have stopped it but I genuinely looked at it as two consenting adults engaging in an activity they both wanted to be involved with.”
“I knew it was inappropriate. I was married. I don’t think I can sit here morally and say it was a positive thing”, said the lawyer.
An employee who was in her 20s when she worked with Bretherton at Gowling WLG told the tribunal that his attitude towards her became increasingly obsessive after they became friends.
The woman, identified as ‘Person B’, alleged that Bretherton “bombarded” her with texts and told her she was "competing to be a favourite blonde", but he became angry and upset when he perceived that she was being aloof with him.
"There were constant questions about where I was and what I was doing. I was later told he was tracking my calendar [to see] whether I was physically present or away from my desk”, she said: “I felt like I was being controlled and manipulated.”
Bretherton’s lawyer said his client appreciated that “with hindsight some of the communications he had were not appropriate”, and that he “misjudged” how comfortable Person B was with discussing “personal topics”.
A third woman alleged that Bretherton put an ice cube down her back when they went to a club after a firm event.
Bretherton has been ordered to pay £23,500 costs according to the Gazette, which appears low given the length of the proceedings and the many peripheral applications and hearings.
With a verdict confirmed, Gowling WLG CEO David Fennell was free to put the boot in. "We are appalled that some of our people had to endure such unacceptable attention from a colleague”, he said.
"Mr Bretherton's behaviour was abhorrent and bares no relation to the values which Gowling WLG believes in and stands for”, said Fennell.
"Our priority is our people and in particular those individuals that stood up for what is right and reported Mr Bretherton. We will continue to support them and to encourage anyone experiencing unacceptable behaviour of any type to come forward", he said. Same goes for ROF and our tip line.
Rather than suggest that its people should come forward if they had allegations, a spokesperson for Gunnercooke emphasised that Bretherton was an angel on its watch, right up to the moment the firm sacked him.
“We are aware that Oliver Bretherton has been struck off the solicitors’ register following a recent Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal regarding misconduct whilst working for his previous employer”, they said.
“We can confirm that he is no longer a partner at gunnercooke. We want to make it clear that there has been no evidence of inappropriate behaviour at our firm, and we have, and always will, take action to protect and safeguard our people, policies and our values."