SDT finds City lawyer guilty over obsession with teenage colleague


Bretherton: “Consensual relationship”

A City lawyer who shared intimate pictures with a teenage apprentice and ogled her as she spread her legs in a swivel chair in the office was found guilty of multiple charges of misconduct last week.

Oliver Bretherton, 41, became obsessed with the 18-year-old when they were working at international law firm Gowling WLG.

He sent her a video of himself masturbating and threw ping-pong balls down her dress, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal heard.

The lawyer told her to bring a sex toy to a party and tried to get her friend involved, asking her to tell him what kind of knickers her friend was wearing.

He also wanted the teenager to send him pictures of her having sex with her boyfriend and taking her knickers off.

Mr Bretherton promised her she would “be his favourite” if she would play with him on WhatsApp.

The SDT heard that Mr Bretherton took advantage of the young woman, known as Person A, for nearly two years.

He would message her “constantly” demanding to know what she was doing and who she was with.

“I would be travelling in on the train and Tube, knowing I would have a stream of messages from Oliver,” she told the hearing.

He would also send her messages in the office and watch her to see what her reaction was.

Mr Bretherton told her to masturbate every day in the office and at home at night. The lawyer would time her doing this and make her do it again if she was not quick enough.

Mr Bretherton would even track her periods if she tried to use them as an excuse for not taking intimate pictures of herself.

The misconduct began in March 2017, shortly before he married, and lasted until January 2019.

Mr Bretherton was found guilty of the bulk of the 76 allegations made against him, which also involved two other young workers.

He had described a 23-year-old trainee as “hot” and “competing to be my favourite blonde”.

A third apprentice, 21, said Mr Bretherton behaved inappropriately towards her in a sexualised manner by dropping ice cubes down the back of her dress and commenting on her cleavage at a works party.

Mr Bretherton admitted he sent Person A links to pornography he liked, erotic literature, and leaked nudes of a Love Island star. He accepted he discussed Person A’s sex life and told her a picture of her turned him on.

He also admitted sending a message asking her to take her underwear off, describing sexual positions and what it would “feel and taste like”. The solicitor also accepted swapping intimate videos with Person A.

He said: “I do remember she swivelled on her chair to face me and spread her legs facing me. I wasn’t crawling around on the floor. Person A did come to my office and spread her legs so I could see up her skirt and see her underwear.

“She came into my room and spread her legs and I had encouraged her to do that.”

He admitted they had discussed buying a vibrator but denied paying for half of it or asking her to film herself using it.

“It was inappropriate behaviour,” he said. “I knew it was inappropriate. I don’t think I can sit here and say it was a positive thing.”

Mr Bretherton said he had a passionate French kiss with the teenager but insisted “she tried to instigate things a little bit more”.

He said: “It was a consensual relationship at the time. I don’t think it was appalling. It was two willing adults who were engaged in a sexual relationship acting in a particular way.

“She was very vocal in what she wanted to know in terms of her sex life. I was very surprised when these allegations came to light. It was equal because of the involvement on both sides.”

Recalling a kiss with Person A at the pub during a work social, Mr Bretherton said: “That was away from everyone. I definitely didn’t want to take a risk there and it’s something I regretted immediately.

“I think, in the example of the kiss, I think it was out of character because we had been drinking.”

He said the teenager sent him an explicit photo of herself, just after she had had sex with a boyfriend, while he was in Scotland with his wife in February 2018.

The solicitor claimed he acted “with integrity throughout” – which the tribunal ultimately rejected – adding: “At the time this exchange happened, I viewed Person A as a mature adult who wanted to take part in this consensual relationship.”

He denied she was vulnerable and insisted she instigated their relationship. “On multiple occasions she told me she was enjoying it. The vast majority of what happened with me and Person A happened out of the office. It wasn’t as if she was upset.

“She was very pro-active. She was telling me how aroused she was. It left me in no doubt she wanted to be in this relationship. She was instigating a significant part of it.”

Mr Bretherton denied he ever threw ping pong balls down the teenager’s dress in the office as other people would have seen this through the glass walls.

“It is clear and obvious inappropriate activity. I have never done this and I would never have done this.” He also denied he ever timed her toilet breaks.

His counsel, Chloe Carpenter, told the hearing it was “plain” the teenager had instigated the relationship.

“Person A was happy in her fantasy sexual relationship with Mr Bretherton when it was going on and has subsequently changed her mind,” she said.

The teenager became jealous when Mr Bretherton showed “kindness” to other members of staff, Ms Carpenter said. “Ultimately, she wanted to ruin Mr Bretheron’s life.”

She added: “Who are the SRA [Solicitors Regulation Authority] to be judgemental over the nature of any relationship or to decide or assume how a woman should or should not or would or would not behave?

“This type of sexting, sending videos and picture type relationship that Mr Bretheron and Person A had may not be to the SRA’s taste but that doesn’t matter.”

Panel chairman Gerald Sydenham said the allegations made against him by the three young workers amounted to an abuse of position.

The hearing will move on to mitigation, sanction and costs.




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