Sacked PwC accountant drunkenly groped a sleeping woman's breasts

Sacked PwC accountant who was jailed for drunkenly groping a sleeping woman’s breasts aboard BA flight then hurling his hard back book at her face when she rejected him is allowed to continue working

  • James Phipps was on a transatlantic flight when he rubbed passenger’s breasts
  • When the woman pushed him away, he attacked her with book she was reading 
  • He was arrested and jailed for assault in America and lost his job with PwC 

A sacked PwC accountant who was jailed for drunkenly groping a sleeping woman’s breasts aboard a British Airways flight before attacking her with a book when she rejected him was today allowed to continue working.  

James Phipps was on a transatlantic flight when he rubbed the breasts of a female passenger two seats away from him and tried to kiss her, a disciplinary panel hearing heard.

When the woman pushed him away, the PwC team leader picked up the hardback book she was reading and flung it at her, striking her in the face.

James Phipps was on a BA transatlantic flight when he rubbed the breasts of a female passenger two seats away from him and tried to kiss her, a disciplinary panel hearing heard (file pic) 

Phipps’s female victim had to seek therapy after the assault and still has a fear of flying due to the traumatic episode, the tribunal was told.

He was arrested and jailed for assault in America and lost his job with PwC, full name PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

But he has escaped being struck off after the Institute of Chartered Accountants accepted his argument that this was an ‘isolated incident’.

The hearing was told the incident took place when Phipps, who was working for PwC in Virginia at the time, boarded a flight from Washington Dulles International Airport destined for London Heathrow Airport on May 11, 2018.

He told the tribunal that on the day of the incident he was ‘drinking heavily, both beforehand and on the flight.’

The panel heard he was in an aisle seat and a lady was sat two seats away from him in the next aisle seat. The middle two seats were empty.

While the aircraft was in flight, the woman was awoken by Phipps touching her. The tribunal was told that a US court had heard how he ‘had his arms all over her torso.’

He ‘rubbed her chest and breasts’, leaned over to her, grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her towards him to kiss her, the court was told, before she pushed him away and yelled ‘No! Get the f*** off of me!’

Phipps then mocked the woman, before grabbing the hardback book and throwing it at her, hitting her in the face, the court heard.

The victim reported the incident to a flight attendant and she was moved to another seat.

Phipps, from the Isle of Wight, was arrested and charged with assault on July 1, 2019.

Despite claiming he had no recollection of this event, he pleaded guilty at the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on August 2, 2019.

The prosecutor said the female victim ‘began seeing a therapist about the incident’ and ‘continues to live with a fear of flying because of this assault.’

On August 30, 2019, he was sentenced to 10 days of incarceration in a detention centre in the US. This was followed by a period of 10 days of house arrest.

After his sentence he moved back to the UK on September 21, 2019 to ‘rebuild his life’. 

His former employers PwC – who fired him – reported his conviction to the ICAEW.

Phipps told the panel he was ‘humbled and full of remorse’ at what he had done and that his actions were ‘completely out of character’.

He was arrested and jailed for assault in America and lost his job with PwC, full name PriceWaterhouseCoopers. File pic 

The hearing was told that Phipps, a graduate of Loughborough University, has been sober since shortly after the incident.

The tribunal decided that an exception could be made in this case and chose not to exclude Phipps, who now works as an accountant for the cycling firm Wiggle in Portsmouth.

The tribunal instead gave him a ‘severe reprimand’ and ordered him to pay costs of £5,060.

‘The starting point for a criminal conviction resulting in a term of imprisonment is recommended to be exclusion,’ the panel chaired by Ros Wright QC, said.

‘A conviction of this nature inevitably reflected badly on the reputation of the profession and of its members and the public had the right to be protected against behaviour of the kind alleged in this case.’

However, it concluded that as an accountant of ‘good character’ who had assured them that this was ‘an isolated incident’, a reprimand would be suitable punishment.

‘The Committee considered that there were a number of mitigating factors to be taken into account. (He) was of good character and was currently employed in a responsible position.

‘He had fully co-operated with the Institute’s investigation. He assured the Committee that…the assault was out of character and an isolated incident.’

According to his Linkedin profile Phipps worked for PwC for six years, including two spent in the US ‘delivering audits to private clients’.

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