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A lawyer has said that she raised concerns about the "totally inappropriate" behaviour of disgraced former Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke 15 years ago when the two worked together at Reed Smith, but the firm brushed aside her complaints.

Speaking to the Guardian, the lawyer produced a copy of her Reed Smith exit interview in which she had written two words as her reason for leaving: "Charlie Elphicke".

Elphicke was jailed in September after he was found guilty of sexual assaulting two women, one in 2007 and the other in 2016. After attacking the first victim at his family’s London home, he chased her around chanting “I’m a naughty Tory”, said the judge. 

Elphicke is appealing, and has also denied the accusations made by his unidentified former colleague.

The female lawyer, who was in her 20s at the time, said Elphicke was known as “the office sex-pest” at Reed Smith, and that junior lawyers nicknamed him “Elfreak”.

She told the Guardian he subjected her to “completely inappropriate questioning over my personal and sex life” and would attempt to play footsie with her. “It was all very embarrassing and totally inappropriate,” she said.

“Towards the end of my time at Reed Smith, the relentless and incessant blatant sexual harassment became overbearing and I sought help from Reed Smith as my employer", said the women.

"I spoke to a partner in the department. He was appalled and said he would speak to senior management. He did, but Charles was given no more than a telling off and I was moved from his office to sit with another partner,” she said.

Despite being reprimanded, Elphicke then began to bully the women, she said, deliberately loading her up with lots of work late in the day. “During my exit interview with HR, no one seemed surprised at my reason for leaving. They all knew what he was like”, she said.

Tamara Box, Reed Smith’s Europe and Middle East managing partner, said the firm "strongly condemns all acts of harassment and/or discrimination, whenever they may have occurred, and we are deeply concerned by the conduct alleged in The Guardian article. Conduct of the kind described in the article is not tolerated by the firm".

In 2018 the firm took swift action and fired a London partner for sexually harassing a trainee, but has had some issues with processes. 

"The firm’s current management has only recently been made aware of this matter", said Box, "and the firm is undertaking a review of how it handled this situation at the time".

She said the firm’s code of conduct "is a living commitment to maintaining positive and productive relationships with our valued colleagues, clients, suppliers and others" and "through that commitment we have made the firm the diverse, inclusive and welcoming place that it is today.”

A spokesman for Elphicke, who was sentenced to two years in jail, told the Guardian the allegations “are false and entirely untrue. They are made at a time when Mr Elphicke is unable fully to defend himself against those jumping aboard the bandwagon following his conviction and sentencing".

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Comments

Come clean RS 09 October 20 08:55

I understand Reed Smith are going to reopen the investigation into the allegations, suggesting the original investigation was not done properly (= cover up to protect the firm, but now they have been forced to revisit). Reed Smith make a big issue about their diversity/inclusiveness/morality etc so let’s see if that is real and who will be held to account.
 

There are a few examples of firms who have put in place investigations of partners behaviour which are clearly not designed to find out the truth or deliver justice for wronged individuals, but are designed to protect partners/management. They need to be exposed because otherwise the injustices of being treated badly by a firm are doubled. People’s careers and reputations get ruined and partners who have behaved badly sometimes get away with at worst a discrete scolding or warning to be more careful next time or maybe even less, with a nod and a wink from their mates who did the investigation. It’s real and it’s a scandal. 

Anonymous 09 October 20 09:45

If only there had been some clue in recent months and years before this Guardian story to suggest Reed Smith should have thought about looking into whether there was anything worth revisiting here. Y'know, like a criminal conviction. Poor them. How could they have possibly known.

Metoo 09 October 20 09:51

Well said Come Clean @ 855.

Word on the street is that a magic circle firm may be forced to reopen an investigation carried out by London HR and the GC a couple of years back following complaints by an Asian based partner in the firm into some really bad behaviour he had uncovered, but where the internal investigation delivered a “nothing to see here” conclusion. He got hold of evidence showing the investigation had been a sham, including that a conclusion had been reached before it started, that the partners supposedly investigated had helped put together the wording the investigation delivered as its conclusion and that there had been doctoring of documents with complicity at a high level. They paid the complaining partner off with an NDA (ROF reported on the story), but other partners in the firm who found out what happened and were appalled by it all have been making noise. Watch this space.....

Anonymous 09 October 20 10:00

@ComeClean - I think any investigation or re-investigation must focus on uncovering the truth rather than protecting the firm, not just if that means upholding an allegation, but also if it means clearing the accused.

What are the examples you refer to?

Anon 09 October 20 10:01

Unfortunately, we all know that if the perpetrator is making lots of money for the firm then they get away with a quiet word telling them to tone things down. If they aren't making enough money then the firm will use their behaviour as a convenient excuse to get rid of them. That is borne out by Elphicke and the Partner fired in 2018 referred to above. 

Anonymous 09 October 20 10:04

What was the evidence that the investigation was a sham, metoo, and that a conclusion had been reached before it started, that the partners supposedly investigated had helped put together the wording the investigation delivered as its conclusion and that there had been doctoring of documents with complicity at a high level?

Anonymous 09 October 20 10:19

Not sure the criminal conviction on its own would merit reinvestigation 9.45, without some other reason to think the original investigation was flawed.

Anon 09 October 20 10:57

Sounds like you are the GC of that MC firm and are getting a little tetchy, Anon 1004. Don’t worry, you can have your say in the “new” investigation....

Anonymous 09 October 20 11:09

Sounds like you are the complainant looking for a re-investigation 10.57! How do you know there will be a 'new investigation?

Anon 09 October 20 11:14

It is true RS make a big play about their culture and diversity, to the extent the constant virtue signalling and self righteousness and identity focus can become tiresome. I worked there for 5 years and the “lookatuswearesoliberalandrighton” messaging was constant. Let’s see if that is true. 

Anonymous 09 October 20 15:14

Hello @10.19. If a firm wanted to avoid looking like they only take things seriously when they get bad publicity they would have had a proper look months or years ago to judge whether they might have a problem, even though it would be odd to reopen the investigation without grievances being re-aired as they have been now.

But the firm line makes it look like they were not even aware there had ever been an issue or investigation until recently, which is (a) highly unlikely and (b) if true, pretty poor risk management and in either case not really acceptable.

Anon 09 October 20 18:28

This was 15 years ago and was in a very different Reed Smith to the one now. It was pre Richards Butler merger and almost all of the decision makers then have gone or retired. I do not imagine that such accusations would be treated without full investigation these days.

Will Self 09 October 20 19:32

Would love to know what the upstanding members of the Tory Party like Mark Francois think about this.

David Boycott 09 October 20 22:14

“a living commitment ” 

How the hell did ROF quote this bullshit without ripping the arse out of it?!  

Anonymous 11 October 20 08:36

9th @ 15.14 - that would mean that investigations and their results are determined by publicity rather than truth. Which would be a bad idea.

Anonymous 11 October 20 19:09

Unfortunately still common today. The perpetrator gets a slap on the wrist and the victim is bullied out. It is quite simply a question of who is more dispensable. Law firms are businesses, not charities.  

It is not the juniors or HR who can do anything here - other partners, the perpetrator's equals, should have stepped in and made it clear that the behaviour was not acceptable. The fact that this did not happen (and rarely happens today) is the real problem.

Anonymous 13 October 20 09:09

The burpetrator/victim narrative is somewhat clichéd. There are often shades of grey in these cases.

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