A Freshfields partner has denied initiating unwanted sexual activity with an "exceptionally drunk" junior lawyer. 

The first incident occurred in May 2016 after Ryan Beckwith and a team of Freshfields lawyers embarked on an all-day drinking session. It started with a boozy 10am bus trip to the Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons restaurant in Oxford and ended with a late night bar-crawl where the lawyers necked jagerbombs in a karaoke booth. 

The portrait of debauchery emerged at a hearing at a Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal where Beckwith, a restructuring and insolvency partner who is now on indefinite leave, is being prosecuted by the SRA for his alleged sexual assault of a female junior associate identified as 'Person A'.

According to the SRA, that evening Beckwith (41, married) attempted to give Person A (20s) a kiss which was neither "wanted nor invited", and she "returned swiftly to her seat feeling shocked and embarrassed". 

A second alleged incident took place in July 2016 following more work drinks at the Harrow pub opposite the Magic Circle firm's office. Person A said that "in hindsight, the velocity of drinking that night was unusual", and she became "extremely and exceptionally drunk" and had difficulty standing up.

According to her testimony, she shared a taxi home with Beckwith on the basis that it would drop him at his address first. But after dozing off, she woke in the cab outside her flat to find the partner still there. Beckwith allegedly asked Person A to let him in to use her loo. When he didn't leave, she claims she told him, "You're a partner, you're married, why are you here?" and told him she was uncomfortable. Her next memory, she said, was waking up in bed to find Beckwith on top of her groping her breasts and exclaiming, "Nice tits!" He asked her if her flatmate had a condom, said Person A, although she did not know if she and Beckwith had sex.


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Restructuring practice, Freshfields: Monday 9.30am


Beckwith has conceded that sexual activity took place, but said it was a "mutual mistake" and dismissed the junior associate's claims as "complete fabrications". During cross-examination, his barrister put it to Person A that "you were having a great time in the pub, you went back with the respondent, and the pair of you 'fucked up'".

Regardless of Beckwith's interactions with Person A, the account sheds an unsavoury light on a culture of heavy drinking at Freshfields which went far beyond a couple of pints on a Friday afternoon. Beckwith and other partners allegedly organised the 2016 piss-up, and he allegedly encouraged the boozing by handing around drinks on the bus.

“We want a culture that is welcoming and allows our people to flourish, and we work hard to achieve that", said Senior Partner Ed Braham, presumably not in a reference to wild booze-ups. He also promised a  "firm-wide programme" to ensure that Freshfields' "values and behaviours" were "consistently experienced across the firm". Again, hopefully not referring to strawpedos. Readers might have thought such a review would have taken place after this incident

Questions remain over Freshfields' response to Person A's complaint. Braham said the firm took all complaints "extremely seriously", and that it instructed an external firm to conduct an investigation when Person A reported Beckwith. It resulted in a written warning for Beckwith which required him to take early retirement if there was another incident. However, the firm declined to tell RollOnFriday if it reported Beckwith to the SRA, which would appear to have been an obligation given the nature of the allegations and its warning.

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Comments

Lydia 04 October 19 07:44

I think she is telling the truth and is coming over well with an honest and fair description. I don't think he should lose his career, but he should have been aware given the imbalance of power between them that going into her flat when she was very drunk was an extremely bad idea, that alone makes him stand out as extremely foolish.

Anonymous 04 October 19 08:07

Very unfair that the accuser remains anonymous while the accuser doesn't. It should be either both or neither.

Anonymous 04 October 19 08:41

Not sure Lydia, my take is that both were drunk and regretted it later, and both felt foolish about. There was an imbalance of power in both directions in different ways.

Confused 04 October 19 08:47

Sorry, she's not coming over well at all. In her evidence she admitted stating "don’t think you’re a bad person, we f****d up, we really f****d up, you’re my married boss, it’s such a cliche" and "I took full responsibility at the time,” after the alleged incident. She now suggests she has changed her mind with hindsight. How does this happen?

Why has she decided to pursue the matter with the SRA and not the police if, as she alleges, he commited multiple sexual assaults? 

Further, if the SRA is going to prosecute sexual encounters based on hierarchical power imbalances and seniority, please can we have some clearly delineated rules instead of "let's make this up as we go along". Would an NQ, who has a drunken fling with a final seat trainee, be subject to disciplinary action? What if they are in different teams? What is the rule please.

If there's been a conviction for sexual assualt then of course the SRA should penalise the guilty party in subsequent proceedings, but using the SDT as back door forum to pursue claims of sexual assualt is going to create the same sloppy mess as Title IX complaints in US universities.

 

Anonymous 04 October 19 08:52

Very well said Confused, best comment I've seen on this by a mile. I think you really capture the fears a lot of people have about the way this is going.

Anonymous 04 October 19 09:07

The facts are:

(i) The Partner had a role supervising Person A. There is a significant imbalance of power. The Partner should have been aware of that.

(ii) There was no previous sexual relationship between the Partner and Person A before these events.

(iii) Person A was extremely drunk at the time these events took place. There are obvious questions about the extent to which she was capable of giving consent.

This may or may not have been a criminal act but, so far as I am aware, our obligations as solicitors are slightly higher than "avoid committing serious criminal offences". They are instead to act with integrity and to run a business properly in accordance with proper governance and risk management procedures.

The partner is in a very senior role and the standards he must meet  are high. At the very least, the facts suggest there are questions about whether those standards have been met.

ANon 04 October 19 09:29

Oh man - the fact that Anon - 8:52 can suggest that rich (probably white) men can legitimately feel "fear" because they might be exposed and have their careers ruined for being rapey pervs is really depressing!

Chuck 04 October 19 09:51

Agree entirely with 09:07 - the partner was the one promoting his fee earners drinking and he chose to take advantage of that. Whether it is criminal is not the question, its very bad management and in no way can a woman in her 20s be expected to have parity of influence with her boss who is 20 years older.

If men are feeling scared about these discussions then they need to have a word with themselves. No SRA guidance is needed; we expect solicitors to behave appropriately. If solicitors cannot do that then I am very glad I went inhouse.

Anonymous 04 October 19 09:55

@9.29 - the legitimate fear men have is that they can be publicly accused by an anonymous accuser and judged by a body who has no remit to judge the accusation and that they will be falsely accused of being 'rapey pervs' because of it. As can be seen that fear is justified.

Anonymous 04 October 19 10:24

Whichever side you take, Freshfields boozy culture was always going to result in something like this happening. The firm just hasn't cracked down on this and can't get away with pretending to act surprised now.

I feel sorry for Ryan's wife (with a baby at the time it happened).

Chuck 04 October 19 10:28

So, Anon 09:55, you are insinuating that these female solicitors are all lying about well behaved men? You have a very twisted outlook. Even if they were lying, to what end? Usually it's the end of the woman's career whether she is publicly named or not. The male partner is told off and takes a sabbatical. The odds are stacked frighteningly against a woman who dares to complain.

Angela 04 October 19 10:47

Anon 08:07 - so you’re calling out non-disclosure of identity, but you won’t add your name to your post... 

Anon 04 October 19 11:14

10.47 - congratulations, you win today's false equivalence badge. Sad to share a profession with someone who 1. displays such limited cognitive ability or 2. is so intellectually dishonest they have rely on straw-manning to get by...

Anon 04 October 19 11:15

10.47 - congratulations, you win today's false equivalence badge. Sad to share a profession with someone who 1. displays such limited cognitive ability or 2. is so intellectually dishonest they have rely on straw-manning to get by...

Big Mac 04 October 19 11:16

The guy is clearly a sleaze who should be dealt with, but you have to question the judgment of the associate in getting so drunk she couldn't walk or have recollection. This is still a work function and losing control to that degree in front of colleagues and bosses cannot be a good idea no matter how much it may have been encouraged.

Anonymous 04 October 19 11:21

There is a bias in the way this is reported in the media. His exact age is given, plus the fact he's married and has children. It isn't mentioned if she is married or in a relationship or has children. Only a range is given for her age, and in a way where the age difference could be anywhere from 12-20 years. The intention seems to be to show him in as bad a light as possible. It's very unfair.

Anonymous 04 October 19 11:27

Also the fact she is allowed to testify from behind a screen and he is not is unfair. It gives an impression of him being guilty. Either both should be allowed to testify from behind a screen or neither.

Anonymous 04 October 19 11:37

@9.07 - there was an imbalance of power in both directions here. There is no allegation that the partner offered any inducement related to his position to sleep with her. It is irrelevant whether there was a previous sexual relationship between the two. He was drunk too. It was doubtful as to whether there was an question as to whether she was capable of giving consent, let alone a clear one. The claim is not related to his running a business or integrity as a solicitor, however it is looked at, it relates to the private life of two consenting adults. It is outside the SRA's remit.

Anonymous 04 October 19 11:39

I also feel sorry for his wife and family 10.24, which is why he shouldn't have been named at this stage. If she has a husband or partner or family I feel sorry for them too, but at least she wasn't named or had her picture all over the papers.

Old enough to know better 04 October 19 11:41

@9.55 if a married man is able to have a few drinks with work colleagues, keep his d*ck in his trousers and avoid touching t*ts (nice or otherwise) I don't think they will ever be exposed to the 'fear' you mention. I know I have managed to do this successfully on a vast number of occasions and, by doing so, have kept my marriage and career ticking along nicely. It really isn't hard. 

Anonymous 04 October 19 11:55

You really should no better 11.41! Read the comment at 9.55 again. The fear spoken about is of being falsely accused or having done nothing wrong and having to go through an unfair process from a body which has no remit to adjudicate on the matter. It's easy to be smug if you haven't been accused.

Anonymous 04 October 19 12:05

@Anonymous 04 October 19 11:37

(1) Why is there an imbalance of power in both directions? Please explain why a junior associate has power over a senior partner tasked with supervising her.

(2) If there had been a previous sexual relationship, that might indicate that this was part of a normal consensual relationship.

(3) Person A was clearly very drunk. She appears to have only been partly conscious during the incident. I don't understand this to be disputed.

If you don't think the Partner's behaviour is relevant to his integrity and governance of his business, I suggest you get out more. Social attitudes have moved on since the 1970's. 

Anonymous 04 October 19 12:24

@Anonymous 12.05 - i) a junior associate has power over the partner because he was presumably attracted to her. Don't look at power purely from a work perspective. ii) the absence of a previous sexual relationship proves nothing. People have one-off relationships all the time. iii) As you fail to mention again, they were both drunk. The extent of her drunkenness is clearly disputed. This conduct isn't related to his integrity and clearly not to his running a business. It is outside the SRA's remit. Suggest you get out more. Social attitudes have moved on since the 1950s. I don't know what the finding will be as the case is still being heard, but you are looking at this in a biased way and making preconceived judgements.

Anonymous 04 October 19 12:39

@11.41 we don't all have as much self restraint as you. I'm surrounded by beautiful young women daily and it really is hard to resist them.

Anonymous 04 October 19 12:42

Nobody forced anyone to drink Chuck and it hasn't been determined that anybody took advantage of anybody (the accuser herself expressed regret at the mistake they both made). You don't know the age gap as you don't know the accuser's age, but from the available information it's closer to 10 years than 20. I can well understand the fear that men will feel at the prospect of being investigated in public without proper remit. Solicitors should act appropriately, this includes not exaggerating allegations.

Anonymous 04 October 19 12:48

Read the comment at 8.07 again Angela. The criticism is of unequal treatment, not of the mere fact of anonymity. And I note you criticise others for remaining anonymous when you choose to do so yourself...

Old enough to know better 04 October 19 13:48

@ anonymous 12.06 what is the relevance of her marital status? Had he have managed to not put himself in that situation, nothing would have happened. He could have easily asked the taxi to drop him home, gone to bed and had an ongoing career. 

Orwell 04 October 19 15:41

@12:24: are you seriously equating a partner's power over the associate's career with her power to attract him? Jesus. We don't live in Gilead.

Anonymous 04 October 19 16:09

@13:48 - surely her marital status is as relevant (or irrelevant) as his, can't see how anyone impartial would say otherwise. Sounds like you've made up your mind in advance who'd to blame based on gender and age. This is a situation both entered into of their own free will.

Anonymous 04 October 19 17:00

No Orwell, I'm not, check the comments again. They each have power over one another, but in different ways. There is also a power imbalance in that she can complain anonymously, while he doesn't remain anonymous. It doesn't take Jesus to work this out.

Anonymous 04 October 19 17:11

People lie for all sorts of reasons Chuck @10.28. Nonsense to suggest that the odds are stacked against the accuser when, unlike the accuser, the accused can't preserve their anonymity, is tried by the media and doesn't get to testify from behind a screen.

Anonymous 04 October 19 17:33

It might have been sleazy Big Mac, but very difficult to legislate against sleaze. 

Fosco 04 October 19 18:48

Great use of "velocity" there. Seems like night progressed quickly and in the wrong direction.

Orwell 04 October 19 21:36

@17:00: you might want reread the comment "a junior associate has power over the partner because he was presumably attracted to her" in that case.

Anonymous 04 October 19 23:27

I cannot imagine why the SDT think they have the right to hear this. And it’s monstrous that the girl is allowed to remain anonymous and he isn’t. I expect the SDT will be as politically correct as possible and try and make an example of this chap. He’d never be convicted in a court. 

 

Anonymous 04 October 19 23:56

She does though Orwell, what's your point?

I think you might want to read the comments again, especially the bit about each of them having power over the other but in different ways. Then perhaps admit that your original comment making accusations about equating the power imbalance was clearly wrong.

Anonymous 05 October 19 06:43

Reckon some people need to accept that senior staff with responsibility for people’s careers need to set the behaviour standard by not getting so pissed that this can even happen. Whether or not the guy did something wrong in this specific situation, it’s worrying how many people seem to still be shutting their ears and eyes to even the possibility that women in junior positions for years have been “consenting” to certain behaviour that actually they don’t welcome but feel they can’t push back on for fear over their future career. Enough people have surely made that point now for us to accept it as being a possibility?!

short version - don’t get pissed and paw at juniors.

Anonymous 05 October 19 08:51

Remember they were both drunk 6.43, don't forget about her.

It's possible that people do things they regret later (that appears to be the essence of the case in point) but adults are capable of giving consent before agreeing to things whether or not it is with the boss. The vast majority of people who have a relationship with a senior person is because they want to and often because it is mutually beneficial.

STD 05 October 19 10:18

If he’s found guilty then the floodgates will open.  There will be thousands of incidents.  I’ve been involved in half a dozen myself although there were no complaints from the ladies.

Bobby Upyerbum 06 October 19 10:07

I've always found the notion that someone has "power over me" because I find them attractive a bit odd.  It sounds more like a porno fantasy than real life.

Have to say I'm utterly unsurprised by the news that there are a bunch of lecherous drunks at Freshfields though.

Anonymous 06 October 19 23:17

I won't comment on your porno fantasies Bobby, but never underestimate the power that a person has over someone who finds them attractive.

There hasn't been any news that there are a bunch of lecherous drunks at Freshfields.

Just me 07 October 19 00:26

As if that's anything new in MC firms. They all have their drinks nights, their sleeze  ball partners and willing juniors. Nothing new nothing to see.

Anonymous 07 October 19 05:07

WTF is a "strawpedo"?

Is it Worzel Gummidge?  Always thought there was sthg odd about him.

Bobby Upyerbum 07 October 19 10:21

To Anon @ 23:17

I don't think it makes sense to assume everyone is submissive just because you are.

Anonymous 07 October 19 13:29

I don't, they aren't and I'm not Bobby, but don't let the truth get in the way of a good allegation.

Don't assume everyone shares your 'porno fantasies'.

Bobby Upyerbum 07 October 19 15:31

When all you have left is "I know you are but what am I?" it's probably best you give up.

Anonymous 07 October 19 20:32

It would have been better still if you'd never started Bobby but yes, you really should give up.

Chuck 08 October 19 13:49

If she came on to him was he not capable of growing up and managing her? You know, as his job required him to. Options include: saying no, having a word with her, avoid working with her, dealing via HR to manage her apparent insatiable lust or frankly doing anything other than plying her with alcohol at a work event, getting in the same taxi and removing his clothes. 

Anonymous 08 October 19 16:27

Adults are allowed to sleep with one another Chuck, whether or not we approve of it and whether or not they regret it later. I don't agree that she had 'insatiable lust'. He didn't ply her, she plied herself with free drinks.

Orwell 08 October 19 17:36

@anon 4/10 23:56

Do you really not see the problem with what you are saying?  It's one thing to make the point about unequal anonymity, but you (or one of your ilk) have specifically put her attractiveness as one of her "powers" by saying "a junior associate has power over the partner because he was presumably attracted to her".

How attractive he finds her is his perception. How he reacts to his attraction is entirely within his own control.  She has no "power" over him in that respect.  To even suggest this is gobsmacking - this is the same kind of mentality that holds that women "ask for it" by the way they dress. 

This is not an theocracy where women are held accountable for tempting men by not covering themselves up. It's the bloody 21st century in a Western country.  Have a word with yourself.

Anonymous 09 October 19 11:57

I really don't see the problem Orwell, it's the truth after all. Agree with you on unequal anonymity (I think in the eyes of the public this is probably the standout thing about this case), but it's difficult to argue against the fact that they both had power over one another, albeit in different ways (not equating the two as you wrongly said in a previous comment). The problem with your argument is that you seem to be saying man uses his power = man's fault, women uses her power = man's fault. I wouldn't underestimate the power that attractiveness can exert over people.

As for the threat to the Western world stuff, I don't think it's me who needs to have a word with myself.

Anonymous 09 October 19 15:46

So in your view, men are just weak, helpless beings, who lose all rationality and control over themselves when presented with an attractive women? And this justifies women being held accountable for men's actions instead of, you know, men being held accountable for their own actions?

Wow, just wow.

I think you might be better suited to life in Saudi Arabia...

 

Anonymous 10 October 19 09:56

No comment actually says that though, 9th Oct @ 15:46. Shame that's your reaction when confronted with the fact that attractive people can have power over other people.

What does it have to do with Saudi Arabia?

Anonymous 10 October 19 12:51

"I wouldn't underestimate the power that attractiveness can exert over people."

Bloody hell. By this logic, a kid has "power" over a paedophile.  

Being found attractive by someone =/= power.

Anonymous 10 October 19 13:04

Um, that is exactly what is being said. It is being suggested that; (1) the woman in this case had some kind of "power" over the man, (2) consequently the man shouldn't be held accountable for his own actions taken in response to this alleged "power"; and thus (3) the woman is responsible for the man's actions. Personally, I don't hold such a dim view of men - I think they are capable of behaving like responsible adults (even professionals) and controlling themselves, no matter how attractive the woman they are faced with. Many of the posters above would appear to agree. One even took the trouble to outline a series of alternative actions the man could taken instead for your enlightenment. 

That line of thinking is very common is Saudi Arabia, and is used to justify many of their abusive laws.

Anonymous 10 October 19 13:56

Verdict: guilty. £35k fine and £200k costs. He’s resigned 

Tread carefully out there...

Anonymous 10 October 19 14:01

Where does it say that 13.04 - which comment?

The commenter Chuck enlightened us all by setting out a range of options whereby consenting adults shouldn't be allowed to sleep with one another.

I think you know about as much about Saudi Arabia as you do about the power that attractiveness can and does have over other people.

Anonymous 10 October 19 14:05

How do you equate the fact that an adult who is found attractive by another adult has power over them with paedophilia 12.51, don't follow that, sorry?

Anonymous 10 October 19 16:25

"I think you know about as much about Saudi Arabia as you do about the power that attractiveness can and does have over other people."

Umm, wtf?? Do you not understand that everyone commenting on here is also a human being, who experiences being attracted to other human beings from time to time? You speak as though you somehow have superior knowledge of what if feels like to be attracted to some one!

I have been attracted to many people in my life, but none of them have ever had any 'power' over me for that reason. I have always remained 100% in control of my own decisions and actions. Often I've been strongly tempted but have resisted because it would have been morally wrong/professionally inappropriate not to resist. As the married man should have done in this case. Plenty of others on here have also commented to that effect. If you think differently to us, you have a problem.

Anonymous 10 October 19 16:28

"No comment actually says that though, 9th Oct @ 15:46."

That is exactly what was said: "The problem with your argument is that you seem to be saying man uses his power = man's fault, women uses her power = man's fault."

Just no. The man's own actions are his fault!!! To suggest otherwise is to hold a woman responsible for a man's actions. Just wrong.

 

Anonymous 10 October 19 17:26

@16.25 - you say that you have been attracted to many people but that none of them had any power over you. You then say 'often I've been sorely tempted but have resisted', which is surely an admission that someone you were attracted did have power over you.

How come you only say the man should have resisted and not the woman (who knew the man was married and may have been been married or in a relationship herself)? Its not for us to say whether its 'professionally inappropriate' for two colleagues to have a relationship, it's up to them, it's far more 'professionally inappropriate' to gossip about it.

Plenty of people (and sometimes the same people pretending to be different people) have expressed plenty of different views, but what you're saying in essence is that I have a problem because I disagree with you. I don't think I'm the one who has.

Anonymous 10 October 19 18:05

16.28 - how is:

"the problem with your argument is that you seem to be saying man uses his power = man's fault, women uses her power = man's fault"

the same as saying:

"men are just weak, helpless beings, who lose all rationality and control over themselves when presented with an attractive women? And this justifies women being held accountable for men's actions instead of, you know, men being held accountable for their own actions?"

They're completely different things. Everyone is responsible for their own actions, men and women, and it's wrong, as the first comment said, to blame men for everything.

Anonymous 10 October 19 18:34

Guilty on some charges but not others 13:56, and specifically stating that the issue of consent wasn't discussed. I think by taking on a case outside their remit and conducting an unfair process by making his name public but not hers they put themselves in a very difficult position.