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Woman in Hiding After "Smutty" Email Goes Global

December 16, 2000

LONDON, Dec. 16 (UPI) — A woman employee of a law firm was in hiding Saturday after she and four others were threatened with dismissal for sharing a smutty joke via e-mail that got circulated worldwide.

Claire Swire, 26, fled her London home to escape a sudden surge of media interest after she was exposed as the sender of a message to her lawyer friend Bradley Chait, 27, at the Norton Rose law firm.

The Sun tabloid newspaper said Swire "was horrified after the message to her city lawyer lover -- describing a Monica Lewinsky-style sex act -- was forwarded to more than a million people."

Technicians at Norton Rose traced the message back to Swire and Chait after a huge global interest caused the company website to crash. Employers of Swire and Chait and three others who circulated the e-mail out of the law firm would announce Monday if the five still have their jobs.

Media members laid siege to Swire's London flat and her parents' home in Uckfield, East Sussex, and parts of the email appeared, with phrases blacked out, in one newspaper while other newspapers speculated on imminent stardom for Claire.

The woman's mother told reporters: "She has gone into hiding. I don't blame her. Would you stick around after something like that?"

Claire Swire sent her message to Chait earlier in the week. Flattered by its references to oral sex, the lawyer forwarded it to six male colleagues with the comment, "Now THAT'S a nice compliment from a lass, isn't it ?" Minutes later, one of the recipients sent it on to 11 colleagues. By now, the message was headed, "Do you know Claire Swire?" and gone through corporate lawyers Allen Overy, investment bank J. P. Morgan, the Arts Council of England and other contacts worldwide.

News media reported Claire Swire has already been invited to appear on television and been offered a job as a magazine agony aunt and other assignments befitting a celebrity.

The Guardian newspaper said Swire sent a retort — via e-mail -- to some of the people who forwarded her message, asking, "What do you care about my social life? Shouldn't you all be working?" She told the female readers not to judge her, and the men that, "all you're going to get is a fantasy."

The Times newspaper said Claire Swire stood to make a small fortune from her notoriety.

"In the past week Ms Swire has become an obsession for millions of Internet users who read her online message," the newspaper said. Publicist Max Clifford said Swire could make a career out of the incident and could even lead to a photo shoot.

In an editorial the Times said the moral from Shakespeare onward "has always been that the thing to do with sex is do it, not talk about it."

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