An experienced solicitor has described making a hat to look like those worn by members of the Ku Klux Klan a ‘playful’ joke and not racially motivated.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal has heard this week that Samuel Charkham wore the hat made from a white envelope and walked out of his office in the direction of a black colleague (referred to as person A).
Charkham, a solicitor for 43 years, was a partner with London firm Simkins LLP when the alleged incident happened in January 2017.
He told the tribunal: ‘I know it sounds ridiculous in retrospect [but] I was just being playful. It didn’t turn out that way. It was not just directed at person A, there were five or six other secretaries. I went out into the room and did a stupid thing.’
Asked by Nimi Bruce, prosecuting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, whether his conduct had been ‘hateful and disgraceful’, he responded: ‘Hateful is a bit strong. Disgraceful probably yes, I accept that.’
Charkham agreed that the incident reflected his ‘playful sense of humour’ and said he did not necessarily know fully what the KKK stood for at the time.
‘My understanding of that organisation now has become more detailed and I understand what it is and what it represents a lot more now – I wish I had known what it represented at that time.’
Charkham conceded that he told a joke at a work Christmas dinner in December 2016, attended by person A, where the punchline was the word ‘tycoon’ and which witnesses have reported feeling uncomfortable about. He also admitted to telling anti-Semitic jokes. Asked whether he had an ‘old-fashioned’ sense of humour, he agreed, telling the tribunal: ‘When you are brought up in a certain environment it is incredibly difficult to change that.’
He added: ‘I have told racist jokes in the past in a very different political climate than we are now and I would never dream to do the same thing again.’
Charkham said he had apologised for telling these jokes and admitted they were in ‘bad taste’. He added: ‘Having had it drawn to my attention I now accept these jokes offended people which by definition makes them offensive.’
Earlier in this week’s hearing, the tribunal heard from two women – one of them Person A – who said he had touched them inappropriately on the bottom. Person A alleged it happened on 18 separate occasions and it was put to him by Bruce that he believed ‘modern rules didn’t apply’ to him.
Charkham responded: ‘I did not touch Person A on any occasion and there is not a single piece of evidence other than what she said that I did so.’
He told the tribunal the allegations may have stemmed from a time when he said Person A’s work had been sub-standard and ‘from that moment on she clearly didn’t like me’.
The hearing continues.