57 varieties of woe for lawyer as saucy trouser e-mail backfires
IT STARTED as an unfortunate accident involving spilt ketchup and a £4 dry cleaning bill. But the resulting angry e-mail written by secretary Jenny Amner to a high-flying lawyer sparked a nationwide media frenzy and sent the two protagonists into hiding yesterday.
Mrs Amner, a 25,000-a-year secretary at the world's fifth-biggest legal company, became incensed after Richard Phillips, a senior associate, asked her to pay a 4 dry cleaning bill for accidentally spilling tomato sauce on his trousers.
Her withering e-mail to Mr Phillips - who earns an estimated 100,000 a year - has sped across the internet after being leaked from the London offices of the multi-national law firm Baker & McKenzie.
The first e-mail, which Mr Phillips sent on 25 May, said: "Hi Jenny. I went to a dry cleaners at lunch and they said it would cost 4 to remove the ketchup stains. If you cd let me have the cash today, that wd be much appreciated."
The final straw for Mrs Amner reportedly came when she returned to work after her mother's funeral to find a yellow post-it note chasing her for the money.
Mrs Amner replied on 3 June: "With reference to the e-mail below, I must apologise for not getting back to you straight away but due to my mother's sudden illness, death and funeral I have had more pressing issues than your 4.
"I apologise again for accidentally getting a few splashes of ketchup on your trousers. Obviously your financial need as a senior associate is greater than mine as a mere secretary."
The angry secretary informed Mr Phillips that she had told various partners, lawyers and trainees about his e-mail and they had offered to "do a collection" to raise the cash.
"I however declined their kind offer but should you feel the urgent need for the 4, it will be on my desk this afternoon," the secretary's e-mail ended.
Mrs Amner copied the e-mail to colleagues and from there it rapidly circulated among other law firms in London.
Recipients began adding their own often sarcastic asides as they sent the note on. One simply said: "This guy should emigrate."
It is ironic that the furore should hit Mr Phillips, who is the company's specialist in media, e-commerce and intellectual property.
Reporters standing outside the City offices of Baker & McKenzie were last night left waiting in vain as both Mr Phillips and Mrs Amner stayed away from work.
However, three private security guards hovered in the reception of Baker & McKenzie as the company continued to fend off press enquiries.
Even staff at a dry cleaners across the road from the company's offices grew tired of being asked if they had cleaned the now famously soiled trousers.
Baker & McKenzie, which has launched an internal inquiry into the e-mail spat, said both employees were now "very upset" by all the publicity over the leak.
"Mrs Amner is particularly distressed because she was recently bereaved," the spokesman added.
Another London law firm, Norton Rose, demonstrated the destructive power of e-mail in 2000 when Claire Swire, an employee, sent an e-mail to a colleague in 2000 describing a sex act. The leaked note, forwarded to six other people, went on to be seen by millions.
In March this year, Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, was forced to admit he had once bitten a colleague on the arm after an e-mail detailing the incident was leaked on the web.
A month earlier, Alastair Campbell, formerly the head of media relations at Downing Street, mistakenly sent a four-lettered e-mail to BBC2's Newsnight.
Jo Moore, a government adviser, shot to notoriety after e-mailing colleagues that the 11 September attacks represented "a good day to bury bad news".
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