A former partner of a top-100 firm has been suspended for nine months over an incident in 2012 when he entered a colleague’s hotel room and asked to spend the night there.

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Matthew James Machen Barker, admitted in December 1995, did not appear and was not represented at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. The three-person panel granted the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s application for the hearing to continue in Barker’s absence. The regulator told the tribunal it had not had contact with Barker since June last year.

The allegations date back to 2012 when Clarke Willmott, where Barker was a partner at the time, organised a partners weekend away. The incident came to light when the SRA was conducting a separate, investigation in 2019. 

The tribunal heard that Barker spoke to a recently promoted partner, referred to as Person A, at the bar where she ‘found him to be rather aggressive’ and ‘felt he was on a power trip’. The tribunal heard Barker had ‘made her upset’.

Later that night, he apologised to Person A and offered to walk her to her room to ‘show there was no hard feelings’. At the room door, he asked for water. She fetched some from the bathroom and, when she returned, Barker was on the bed.

The tribunal heard Person A repeatedly asked Barker to leave and he refused, eventually asking if he could spend the night. When she refused, he asked for a hug. She agreed ‘in an effort to get him to leave’ but when he began to rub her back and pull her towards the bed she became ‘irritated’.

Person A suggested coffee in Barker’s room, he agreed. As they walked along the corridor, she returned to her room without Barker. Later, Barker sent a text message to Person A which said ‘needing some cuddles’.

Louise Culleton, for the SRA, said the firm conducted an investigatory meeting with Person A days after the incident and then with Barker.

Referring to the notes of the meeting between Person A and the firm, Culleton said: ‘[Barker] said, could he lie next to her all night and…he said she would be safe as he was impotent but in the words set out in the allegations.

‘Person A then said again she needed to go to bed. The respondent was saying he would really like to have sex with her.'

The tribunal heard the firm also had an investigatory meeting with Barker.

Culleton said: ‘[Barker] said he was not surprised about the purpose of the meeting, that he made a fool out of himself. He acted out of character.’

The tribunal heard at the meeting Barker expressed ‘regret and was monumentally apologetic’.

Culleton added: ‘He said whatever the outcome, he would not bear a grudge against Person A. He would not think any less of anyone other than himself. He simply could not understand his behaviour.’ 

Barker told the firm he did not normally drink ‘as an explanation, not an excuse,’ Culleton said. She added: ‘He made no attempt to deny [Person A’s story]. He said he knew he should not have sent the text and should not have been in Person A’s hotel room. He said he would like to convey his unreserved apology [to Person A].’

The tribunal heard Culleton immediately stepped down as a board member and ‘subsequently left the firm for various reasons’.

The hearing, which was scheduled for four days, concluded in one with the panel suspending Barker from practice for nine months. He was also ordered to pay £11,000 costs.