Accountant reprimanded over mid-flight sexual assaultby
In this December disciplinary round-up, AWEB investigates an instance in which an ICAEW member sexually and violently assaulted a passenger mid-flight.
As always, Blake Morgan LLP consultant/solicitor Chris Cope gives his take and explains what accountants can learn from these cases.
A tribunal of the ICAEW disciplinary committee found member James Phipps guilty of an offence of ‘Simple Assault’ after an incident where he became intoxicated on a flight and assaulted a female passenger.
During May 2018, James Phipps was aboard a British Airways flight travelling from Dulles, Virginia, to London Heathrow Airport. During the incident, the flight was within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
Phipps was seated in an aisle seat, two seats away from a female passenger who did not know Phipps. The middle seats between them were empty.
While the plane was in flight, she was suddenly awoken by Phipps groping her chest. He reportedly leaned over, grabbed her by the neck and tried to pull her towards him to kiss her.
Shocked, she tried to push him away, yelling for him to get off of her. Phipps then took the female passenger’s hardcover book and threw it directly at her, hitting her in the face.
The woman reported the incident to a flight attendant and was moved to another seat. Over a year later, during July 2019, Phipps was arrested in relation to this incident. He did not face any repercussions at the time of the event.
Appearing before the United States District Court in Virginia during August 2019, Phipps pleaded guilty to one offence of Simple Assault.
For his actions, Phipps was sentenced to 30 days supervised probation with the following conditions:
- 10 days imprisonment
- A further 10 days of home confinement with electronic monitoring
- $25 special assessment payment by 30 September 2019
According to Phipps’ legal team, he was so intoxicated during the flight that he had “no memory” of the incident, but took full responsibility for what he did. They also reported that he had remained sober since its occurence.
The prosecutor highlighted the mental and psychological damage that the female passenger continued to suffer, stating that she had started receiving therapy and was in fear of flying because of the assault.
In September 2019, ICAEW’s Professional Conduct Department (PCD) received information from Phipp's former employers in relation to the offence.
Although Phipps’ misconduct was seen as likely to bring discredit on himself, ICAEW and the profession of accountancy, the Disciplinary Committee took the view that an exception could be made in this case to the recommended starting point for an offence of this kind.
A severe reprimand was deemed the appropriate sanction together with costs of £5060.
Chris Cope, consultant to Blake Morgan LLP, comments:
A criminal conviction for an act of violence will, inevitably, result in disciplinary proceedings. Where that conviction leads to a term of imprisonment (in this case - ten days),the starting point when the Disciplinary Committee considers sanctions is exclusion from membership. An aggravating feature in this case was that Mr Phipps did not self-report to the ICAEW.
Mr Phipps represented himself. In the circumstances, bearing in mind the possibility of exclusion, I think that this was a high-risk strategy. He would have been well advised to be legally represented.
The mitigation included confirmation from his present employers that Mr Phipps' employment would continue, despite the conviction, and 13 references.
A severe reprimand was undoubtedly a fair and reasonable outcome. However, I was surprised that there was no fine. In fact, of the five cases published (all handled digitally), no fines were imposed. This must be unprecedented. Furthermore, not one of the five was legally represented.
Do readers believe this sanction was fair?
If you are presently subject to a complaint or want more information about Chris Cope and Blake Morgan LLP, solicitors, you can visit their website here.