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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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.