A former Clyde & Co partner who put his arm around the waist of a female trainee at a strip club has been rebuked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Peter Walmsley, a personal injury specialist who led the international firm’s catastrophic injury and large loss team in Manchester, failed to have ‘sufficient regard for the wellbeing of a female trainee solicitor’ known only as AB at a ‘work-related event’ in November 2017, the SRA said.

The event, which was attended by clients of Clyde & Co and other senior staff at the firm, began with colleagues and clients meeting at a local Christmas market before moving on to a number of bars, the regulator said in an agreed decision published today.

Walmsley, AB, two male senior associates from the firm – including one of AB’s previous supervisors – and two members of the client organisation later went to a venue which was ‘licensed for late-night drinking and also had a sexual entertainment licence’.

‘Neither Mr Walmsley nor AB realised the nature of the club until prior to entry,’ the SRA said. ‘Mr Walmsley was also unaware that AB had even entered the club until he saw her inside. He did not ask or encourage her to go to the club, he had not visited the club before and it was not his choice of venue.’

While the group were seated at a booth in the club, Walmsley – ‘without prior warning’ – ‘placed his hand around [AB’s] waist’, which the SRA said ‘was done openly, and without any improper or sexual motivation on his part’.

‘However, this was unwanted by AB and it compounded her discomfort, particularly in view of the environment they were in,’ the decision states. ‘AB felt unable to challenge Mr Walmsley’s unwanted behaviour because of his seniority and the presence of clients. She moved away from Mr Walmsley because she felt uncomfortable with his arm around her. When she returned to the booth area, Mr Walmsley put his arm around her waist again (and, again, there is no suggestion that he had any improper or sexual motivation in doing so).’

Walmsley, who was reportedly sacked by Clyde & Co in October 2018 after allegations of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ and is now a partner at national firm Horwich Farrelly, admitted he should have taken steps to ensure AB ‘was not discomforted and/or otherwise adversely affected by the nature of the venue’. He also admitted not taking reasonable steps to ensure his actions ‘did not exacerbate her feelings of discomfort at being present at the venue’.

The SRA noted that Walmsley apologised to AB as soon as he discovered that she had felt uncomfortable and that he ‘has since taken action to prevent his behaviour from being detrimentally impacted by alcohol when in the presence of colleagues or staff’.

The regulator said that a written rebuke was appropriate due to ‘Walmsley’s failure to take appropriate action [which] was detrimental to AB’ and that ‘his seniority and intoxication were aggravating factors’.

Walmsley has also agreed to pay the costs of the SRA’s investigation in the sum of £600.

In a statement, Horwich Farrelly said:  'This incident occurred over 5 years ago and Peter Walmsley now manages a very successful team at Horwich Farrelly. During his time here he has performed with impeccable conduct and with the full support of his team and clients who were made fully aware of the facts. 

'Horwich Farrelly take issues of this nature very seriously and agree with the SRA findings that Peter should not have put himself or others in this position. The SRA have noted that there was absolutely no intent from Peter on the evening in question to attend a club of that nature, and there was no sexual or inappropriate motive or intent behind his actions. 

'Immediately after the event, and in the years since, Peter has shown that he has taken the matter extremely seriously and regrets the incident wholeheartedly.  He has focused on his personal development to ensure he always puts the wellbeing of every team member first, in every situation. It is due to his constructive approach since the event that Horwich Farrelly believed he deserved the chance to further his career.'