The problem with raining blows upon the person who may or may not have thrown your wife’s coat on the floor of the Royal Opera House and pushed her into you when she objected, and who definitely tried to sit next to her in a seat he didn’t buy, is that the people around you are very likely to see the shower of fists but are less likely to see what immediately preceded them. And the problem with calling the police about the alleged toss and shove is that it’s very likely to bring to their attention the alleged ensuing outburst of punching to their attention, and land you in court, where the first problem is likely to become acute.

Such is the situation hedge fund lawyer Matthew Feargrieve finds himself in. Last year, was at the Royal Opera House sitting in the vicinity of fashion designer Ulrich Engler. As the ROH was putting on Wagner’s entire, interminable Ring cycle in the space of a few days, it was not a sell-out, and Engler noticed that the seat beside Feargrieve’s partner in the row in front of him was unoccupied. He asked the partner, Catherine Chandler, if she’d mind him moving up, and she said yes. This deterred Engler that night, but not three nights later, when the same conversation concluded with Engler removing Chandler’s coat from the seat and occupying it in spite of her protests.

This is where the agreement ends. Engler says he placed the coat on Chandler’s lap, an aggressive enough action, and sat quietly until Feargrieve began to pummel him. Chandler and Feargrieve say Engler threw the coat on the floor, and then pushed Chandler into Feargrieve when she went to retrieve it, dislocating his arm. This is quite a bit more aggressive, but also slightly less believable, as said alleged dislocation did not prevent Feargrieve from visibly using both arms to strike Engler, and also no one other than Feargrieve and Chandler were willing to testify to it. On the other hand, prosecutors did manage to find a few people who saw the punches.

A hedge fund lawyer has been convicted of the assault of a fashion designer after punching him because he moved his partner's tweed coat during the opera… Judge Zani said that several independent witnesses had seen Feargrieve throw the punches…. 'I accept the evidence from the prosecution witnesses when they say you did punch Mr Engler at least once, maybe twice or three times.'

This must be vindicating for Engler, who spent an unpleasant 11 hours in the pokey after Chandler filed a complaint against him before dropping it two weeks later, and unnerving for Feargrieve who, chivalry aside, is a lawyer and ought to have known that hitting people is a crime. But the people who run the Royal Opera House know who the real criminal is here: the guy who tried to sit in a seat he hadn’t purchased.

Feargrieve dropped the charges two weeks later, but by this time Mr Engler, whose clients reportedly include the Countess of Derby, the Countess of Wessex and Princess Alexandra, was banned from the Royal Opera House.

Unless the Daily Mail inexplicably failed to report it (in which case, we fully support George Soros’ short bet against it), Feargrieve and Chandler are still welcome to enjoy the view from Row A in Covent Garden.

Fight at the opera! Hedge fund lawyer, 43, is convicted of assault after punching fashion designer who had moved his partner’s coat from an empty seat during Wagner performance [Daily Mail]
George Soros hedge fund makes £16m bet against Daily Mail owner shares [Guardian]

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