“KKK” solicitor fined for groping female colleagues

SDT: Recommended solicitor underwent training

A senior solicitor who did a Ku Klux Klan impersonation at his Black secretary and repeatedly groped her bottom has been fined and urged to undertake diversity training.

Samuel Maurice Charkham, 68, pulled a large white envelope over his head in the central London firm’s offices and ran down the corridor calling her name and shouting “I’ve joined the KKK”.

Mr Charkham routinely squeezed her buttocks and told a racist joke in front of her at a Christmas work party, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard.

He insisted that, although his jests were in bad taste, he was not a racist.

The tribunal upheld the allegations against him, which he had denied, that he touched the secretary’s bottom 18 times, flicked the firm’s accounts manager’s bottom, and made a racist remark.

The panel fined him £30,000 and ordered him to pay £21,000 in costs, recommending also that he undertook training in equality, diversity and inclusion.

Mr Charkham was a partner at Simkins at the time. His secretary told how he groped her bottom at least 18 times. “It happened as frequently as he wanted it to, I suppose,” she said. “He clenched, sometimes he slapped.”

Recalling when the solicitor made the remark about the KKK, she said: “It sort of came out of nowhere really.”

She recounted how she was sat at her desk as another lawyer was just about to dictate a letter: “I was poised with my hands on the keyboard and then [Mr Charkham] came running through the office with a white A4 envelope on his head laughing, joking, saying he has joined the Klu Klux Klan ‘hahaha’. I was shocked that this had happened.”

At the firm’s Christmas dinner in December 2016, he asked in front of colleagues: “What do you call a black man who sells ties? A tycoon.”

The secretary recalled: ‘I positioned myself as far away from him as I could. He made a joke which I sort of caught the odd word but I realised it had some racial connotation because everyone at the table instantly starred at me, like I had soup on my face.

“I just wanted the ground to open really, because here I was again – I would rather just be a home.”

An accounts manager also told the court how she complained when Mr Charkham flicked her bottom in 2018. “It was too hard for it to have an accident,” she said.

“The reason I decided to report it was because the secretary who had previously reported some behaviour of his had said that he had touched them on the bottom.”

He admitted before the tribunal that his joke at the party was racist but said the political climate was different three years ago. “I would never dream of doing it now,” he said.

He did not accept that it was directed at the secretary. “I accept that it was in bad taste. It was a joke I heard and I just repeated it. As I say, I apologised afterwards and I cannot see the point of any further discussion.

“What I can say is my understanding of that group now is a lot more detailed and I understand what it is and what it represents now and I wish I knew what it represented then because I would not have dreamed of it.

“The Black Lives Matter movement did not exist four years ago… I know it sounds ridiculous in retrospect but I was just being playful.”

Of his KKK impersonation, he said: “It was not funny and I should have understood that before, but it was not racially motivated.”

He said he fell out with the secretary a few years before the allegations were made and said thereafter “she clearly did not like me”.

He insisted that he did not touch her on the bottom on any occasion and said “there is not a single piece of evidence I did on any occasion”.

The secretary settled an employment tribunal against Simkins for race and sex discrimination on undisclosed terms. She said it included various non-disclosure clauses and that she had been represented by a solicitor at the time.

The tribunal’s full reasons will be published in the coming weeks.

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