02:28, November 16 129 0 theguardian.com

2020-11-16 02:28:04
Law firm apologises for handling of allegations against Charlie Elphicke

A law firm has apologised for its handling of sexual harassment allegations made by a former staff member against the disgraced former Tory MP Charlie Elphicke more than a decade ago.

Reed Smith launched a review last month of how it handled allegations of misconduct against Elphicke, who was a partner there, after a former colleague told the Guardian that she had cited his conduct as her reason for leaving the firm 15 years ago.

She said she was “particularly disappointed” that a formal investigation was not undertaken given the gravity of her complaint and wondered if others would not have suffered had his behaviour been “nipped in the bud”.

Following the review, Tamara Box, Reed Smith’s EME managing partner, issued a statement saying: “I am saddened to say that based on our findings, the manner in which the firm dealt with the matter at the time did not meet the standards that we set ourselves and expect today.

“Our standards require us to fully investigate all concerns of this nature and take all appropriate action to deal with any concerns we identify. The firm’s response in 2005 fell short of this standard and, rightly, we have apologised for this.

“We are confident that the firm’s current policies and procedures would not allow this to happen now, and we will continue to take all appropriate steps to ensure that our values and standards are met by all who work at the firm.”

A judge described Elphicke as a “sexual predator” as she sentenced him in September to two years in prison after a jury found him guilty of three counts of sexual assault against two women.

The 49-year-old, who represented the Kent constituency of Dover from 2010 until last year, was convicted in July of the charges, two in relation to a parliamentary worker in 2016 and one in relation to a woman at his family’s central London home in 2007. He is appealing against the conviction.

The latest allegations against him were made by a woman who spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity. On the section of an exit interview form asking why she was leaving Reed Smith, which she provided to the Guardian, she wrote: “Charlie Elphicke.”

She also raised concerns about Elphicke with the Conservative party when a series of allegations concerning the involvement of British politicians in cases of sexual harassment and assault arose in October and November 2017.

But she was particularly critical of Reed Smith, where she said he developed a reputation as “the office sex pest” and was nicknamed “Elfreak” by junior lawyers.

“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. 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.