The woman at the centre of allegations against a partner at magic circle firm Freshfields has tearily spoken about how her first reaction to the alleged assault was to blame herself.
Day three of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal hearing of charges against Ryan Beckwith heard his defence cross-examine 'Person A', who is giving evidence from behind a screen, about the amount of alcohol she drank at two separate work-related events and her responses following the alleged incidents.
The SRA alleges that Beckwith kissed or attempted to kiss Person A in circumstances where he was in a position of seniority or authority. It also alleges that a few weeks later Beckwith initiated and/or engaged in sexual activity, where he ought to have known his conduct was unwelcome and that the other party was intoxicated to the extent she was vulnerable and her decision-making ability impaired. By doing so, it alleges that Beckwith failed to act with integrity and failed to behave in a way that maintains the trust the public places in him and the legal profession. Beckwith denies the allegations.
For Beckwith, Three Raymond Buildings’ Alisdair Williamson QC put to Person A that she had decided to resign from Freshfields before the first incident. Person A said: 'There were a collection of professional factors that contributed to my reasons for resigning in addition to the [first] incident... Nothing had been decided and I had remained unsure in part because I was waiting for salary decisions which came on that day.'
Williamson questioned Person A on a conversation with Beckwith in which she said: 'I do not think you're a bad person. We f**ked up. We really f**ked up. You're my married boss. This is such a cliche.' Williamson asked: 'You accept that, do you not?'
Person A replied: 'It was a very odd interaction. I agree I took complete responsibility at that time. I did not take shared responsibility, it was complete and I was horrified at that time by my own behaviour. It was definitely the case I accepted responsibility. Obviously, on reflection, it's not my view, it's not the case. At the time I was completely and utterly blaming myself and hated myself for what had happened.'
Williamson said: 'You say in those early days you had not had time to process it all and you were very focused on the fact he was married.'
Person A said: 'The whole situation was...difficult to understand for me. One factor was he was married... I did not want what happened to happen... There's a big difference between regret and shame about what had happened. I felt very ashamed by what happened as a result of the incident being non-consensual, not because the respondent was married.'
Williamson said: 'That was not your view at the time. You very much focused on the fact he was married.'
Person A replied: 'I was perhaps less able to describe these complex emotions than I can now. I was horrified, ashamed, just in a very difficult place mentally and emotionally as a result of what happened. I misunderstood my own reaction to it.'
In the afternoon Riel Karmy-Jones QC, for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, questioned Person A on some of the questions raised by Beckwith's counsel.
Karmy-Jones said it had been 'suggested' in the morning that Person A had been misleading when she referred to her therapist as a psychologist and, in her witness statement, as a 'doctor'.
'Were you trying to be misleading?' Karmy-Jones asked. 'No,' replied Person A.
Karmy-Jones questioned Person A on an email exchange following the first incident.
The tribunal had earlier been told that, after the event, Person A went to another bar and continued drinking. Later, Beckwith emailed colleagues saying he was unsure who covered the bill but that no one should be paying for anything out of their own pocket. The email concluded 'Not sure about you but I'm ever so slightly dusty today'.
Williamson argued that there was no need for Person A to reply. Karmy-Jones told Person A: 'One-and-a-half hours later, you say "Thanks, not me... Everyone loved it.'
Person A said the intention of her email was to 'express gratitude' for the occasion and say thank you. 'Also, there is a culture of responsiveness at Freshfields. You respond to emails. It was something that I had to acknowledge receipt of and be grateful for the event,' she added.
During the morning Person A was questioned extensively about how much she had drunk at the work-related events.
'Do you remember the precise amount in respect of each evening?' Karmy-Jones asked. 'It is difficult to estimate,' Person A said.
Person A was asked to read to the tribunal an email in which she wrote: 'You took advantage of me while I was too drunk to decide. You bought me too many drinks, more than what most people could handle. You invited yourself into my flat, you wanted to use my bathroom. It must have been obvious I was too drunk. I could hardly walk. I fell over at least twice. The fact you thought, felt it was OK to have sex with me. It's troubling... I do not remember the detail of what happened which in itself is difficult for me.'
Karmy-Jones said Person A had been asked a lot of questions about the number of drinks she had and what she said. 'Do you remember how many Jagerbombs you consumed on either evening?, Karmy-Jones asked. 'No,' Person A replied.
Person A told her flatmate she was too 'unwell' to go out with friends a few days after the second incident. 'When you say you were feeling unwell, what did you mean?' Karmy-Jones asked.
Person A said: 'I was feeling very numb and could not really contemplate what had happened. I was trying to be normal.'
Earlier, the tribunal had been shown a photo of Person A at the pub a week after the alleged second incident. She said: 'When you look at the photo, me smiling, it's not a real representation of what was going on at that time. It was me just trying to hold everything together. If I look at those photos now, it makes me feel sad because it shows what I was trying to hide. It's exhausting. It's exhausting.'
Karmy-Jones said it had been suggested that the first incident did not happen. 'Did it happen?' she asked. 'It did, it did,' Person A said.
'And that second incident, you were not nearly as drunk as accounts you have given. That, in effect, you were a willing participant in everything that took place, even responsible, the person who instigated it', Karmy-Jones said.
Person A replied: 'I was too drunk to know what was going on to decide what I wanted. I really regret being that drunk obviously, because this thing happened to me. But it's true, I'm telling the truth.'
The hearing continues.
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