Andrew Williams’ professional reputation was savaged within 30 minutes – isn’t it time someone said sorry?
What do Jeremy Clarkson, Steven Gerrard and the Solicitors Regulation Authority have in common? To paraphrase Elton John, sorry seems to have been the hardest word for each.
Clarkson has yet to apologise publicly to the producer allegedly on the end of a physical and verbal hiding earlier this month.
Gerrard, the Liverpool football captain, apologised to almost everyone after his red card at the weekend – all except the poor Manchester United player he had planted his studs into.
And the SRA joined this illustrious company this week with the type of mealy mouthed, unsatisfactory response to a mistake that so infuriates so many solicitors.
This was not just any mistake: this was the closure of a man’s firm , the removal of his livelihood and the besmirching of a reputation that had taken 30 years to build and 30 minutes to destroy.
I’ll be honest, I was dubious when Andrew Williams first made contact about the injustice he had suffered at the hands of the regulator. It’s not unknown for people to come to us with tales of woe, only for them to omit to tell us something that undermines their whole case.
I believe Williams, whom I have met in person, is not in that category.
With his fellow partner retiring and a key part of the business being left vacant, Williams admits he made a mistake in contemplating bringing on board someone who later turned out to be bad news. But this person was gone by the summer, literally locked out of the building.
In the meantime, the SRA had started investigating. Staff visited three times and by October had enough of a case to intervene and shut him down.
I understand the need to keep some interventions secret. Tipping off miscreants could mean the SRA arrives to see the shredding machine in overdrive and a roaring bonfire out the back.
But in Williams’ case, one call - just one element of openness - would have ascertained he was clean. Moreover, how can it be fair that the regulator alone - which has an interest in defending its conduct - gets to argue this case to the adjudication panel?
As it was, the SRA stomped into the firm last October and shut it down. Staff were in tears and facing immediate joblessness. Vulnerable clients were left in limbo as Williams was not even able to contact them to explain.
All of which, as it transpired, was one monumental blunder and an example of why there needs to be much greater scrutiny of the decision to intervene.
Of course, mistakes happen. I don’t believe anyone at the SRA wanted to cause distress deliberately and indeed its prime concern was always to protect clients.
What is really unforgivable is the lack of remorse or an apology. SRA director Gordon Ramsay said: ‘We do not give solicitors notice where we believe this would present a further risk to client interests. We believed that risk was present in this case.’
Well, there wasn’t and you got it wrong. The least the SRA could do is say sorry for putting a man through a nightmare that continues to this day.
John Hyde is Gazette deputy news editor