Retired accountant excluded for offensive emailsby
A retired chartered accountant was excluded from the ICAEW and ordered to pay costs of £15,290 after sending obscene and offensive emails, including one where he referred to someone as the “scum of the earth”.
It can be easy for accountants to assume they only have to uphold professional standards within the confines of their work environment. However, a recent disciplinary case, as documented in the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) September judgments, underscores the importance of upholding these standards, even when you’re not practising or carrying yourself as a chartered accountant.
Sexist and unprofessional emails
The case in question revolved around David Forge, an ICAEW member since 1981 who had not held a practising certificate since 2008 but still made direct references to his professional status. Forge’s behaviour was brought into question after he engaged in a series of offensive and derogatory email exchanges.
This included referring to someone as “scum of the earth” and in another exchange stating: “Dear, oh dear Ms D, haven’t you got anything better to do like washing up?”
The complaint began when Ms B, formerly the head of block management for the managing agents of a property development where Forge owned a property, left her position and joined a firm where Mr A was the director.
This triggered a chain of events, with Forge defending his friend – the director of the firm Ms B used to work for – and accusing Ms B of fraud and lodging a complaint against her and Mr A with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. This marked the beginning of a dispute that spanned from December 2015 to December 2018 and was punctuated by a barrage of unprofessional emails.
In the first of the emails flagged in the disciplinary decision, Forge told Mr A: “You are in my opinion, the scum of the earth.”
While this was not said in a professional engagement, the tribunal pointed out that it was sent in a formal context relating to the management of the development, it was copied to 11 other recipients and amounted to discreditable conduct.
Subsequent emails further violated the ICAEW’s code of ethics, featuring sexist language and derogatory comments This included, in January 2016, the use of sexist language such as “you stupid girl” and “knickers in a twist”. Further examples of unprofessional language in March 2016 were references to someone attending a “Mickey Mouse Accountancy School”.
The worst example of his behaviour was in an email sent two days before Christmas when he made allegations of criminal behaviour against Ms B and threats of police arrest. “I believe a good time for the police to arrest working mothers is 11:00 on a Sunday morning so please listen out for the doorbell. It is more likely to be Santa this Sunday but next time it could be Mr Plod,” he wrote.
Forge continued to target Ms B and Mr A with emails designed to cause maximum distress.
When the investigation committee asked whether Forge would attend the disciplinary hearing, he responded that he had “better things to do than waste my time on this nonsense” and resigned from the ICAEW.
The investigation committee reminded him that members cannot resign while there is an ongoing disciplinary complaint, but Forge snapped back that he had been retired for 15 years.
The tribunal proceeded in his absence, and although he did not provide a formal response, he maintained throughout his correspondence with ICAEW that his comments were “justified, appropriate and proportionate” and painted Ms B and Mr A as the aggressors.
The disciplinary tribunal recognised that Forge was involved in a fraught dispute, but in light of the seriousness of his prolonged conduct, it concluded that his behaviour was incompatible with being a member of a professional body.
The tribunal decided that the appropriate disciplinary sanction was exclusion from membership and ordered that he pay costs of £15,290.
This case serves as a stark reminder that chartered accountants are expected to uphold professional standards, not only in their professional capacities but also in their interactions and conduct outside of their practice.