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Saturday, 16 December, 2000, 15:51 GMT
E-mail woman in hiding
Press coverage of the smutty e-mail
Press coverage of the story continues
The young woman behind a revealing e-mail seen by millions is still in hiding as five top law firm employees accused of circulating the correspondence await their fate.

Reporters have tracked down Claire Swire's family home, where her parents spoke of their embarrassment.

Five workers based at the Norton Rose firm in London, UK, face disciplinary action when they return to work on Monday.

They could even be dismissed for their alleged part in distributing the e-mail containing an apparently off-the-cuff sexual remark by Miss Swire.

Newspaper frenzy

It was added on 7 December to an e-mail originally consisting of two smutty jokes sent to a tiny group of people.


She has gone into hiding. I don't blame her. Would you stick around after something like that?

Woman's mother
Within hours it had spread from Norton Rose to other prestigious London law firms before making its way across the world as far as New Zealand.

More than a week later, as newspapers scrambled to report details of the salacious incident, the 26-year-old originator was forced to ground.

At the family home in Uckfield, East Sussex, her parents spoke of their disbelief at the interest generated by her indiscretion. Miss Swire's mother said: "She is horrified by all this. She has gone into hiding. I don't blame her. Would you stick around after something like that?"

Job offer

But that has done little to dampen enthusiasm for the story or the search for the woman.

Norton Rose offices
Norton Rose: The employees find out their fate on Monday
An unrelated company, where an employee shares the same name, has reported 140 times the normal hits on its website. One national newspaper speculated on the small fortune the victim could make from her new-found notoriety.

Another printed a large transcript of the e-mail exchange with incriminating sections blacked out. A men's magazine has reportedly offered her a job, saying she would make a "fantastic" agony aunt or sex columnist.

At least two dedicated websites have been set up - including reader polls, latest news and chat forums - and one reports that a Sunday newspaper has bought Miss Swire's story.

The saga began nine days ago when she sent the two jokes without comment to friends, including her boyfriend.

Web links

She then followed it up with a message sent solely to him, containing explicit details of a sexual act between them.

Bob McAfee of Norton Rose
Bob McAfee: "Disciplinary procedures now underway"
At the end of her e-mail, she typed that she was getting a "funny picture in my head, giggling out loud" and having to explain what was so funny to a work colleague.

The recipient - now labelled a "rat" by one newspaper - forwarded the e-mail to six friends with the comment: "Now, THAT'S a nice compliment from a lass, isn't it?"

One of the recipients felt "honour bound" to circulate it further and the e-mail's distribution spiralled. As it was forwarded to millions, comments included "what a top lass - let's start a campaign to find her".

Others said "one of the best e-mails I've seen in yonks! Hunt her down!" and "I know it's mean, but v funny ... poor girl!".

Disciplinary procedures

Eventually Norton Rose technical staff alerted managers.

As soon as they realised internal rules had been broken, the internal disciplinary procedure was invoked said company spokesman Bob McAfee.

After a two-hour hearing, the five law workers were told they would have to wait over the weekend to find out whether they still had their jobs.

Norton Rose's action came just two months after it spoke to BBC News Online about impending legislation allowing firms to monitor private staff e-mails.

Tim Russell, an employment lawyer with the company, said it would take a court case before it was clear what companies could and could not do under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act.

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See also:

15 Dec 00 | Sci/Tech
Press send to censor
25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Watching while you surf
12 Dec 00 | UK
When rude is too crude
03 May 00 | UK
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