Waiting

Goodbye Singapore, hello Maidstone. Au revoir Nick. On a Tuesday afternoon in the unwelcome new life of Lisa Leeson, wife of the man who broke the bank, Angela Lambert went visiting. Portrait by Phil Starling
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
In the tea-room where she has a part-time job, the first thing customers see is a petition to have Nick Leeson tried in London. It lies on the glass counter above rows of home-baked scones and slices of cake (walnut 95p, chocolate 90p, Madeira cake 90p). A dozen names make what still looks a forlorn plea.

The airfare for her weekly trip to Frankfurt is pounds 169 and she says she has no money apart from the rent on a Blackheath flat that Nick bought two years ago with his first, and only, bonus - pounds 130,000.

She is very exposed: people can see her from the street and many come in to talk to her. When I arrive she is at the back of the room listening to a plump man with slicked-back hair. She comes over and says, "I'm ever so sorry. I don't know who he is; I don't know what he wants!"

"Is he bothering you?" I ask.

"Ooh no,!" she says. "He's not a journalist ! Give me another ten minutes, OK? I'm sure he'll be finished by then."

Half-an-hour later the man leaves. "Who was he?" I enquire. "Well he said he was a clairvoyant. Said I was psychic. I still don't know what he wanted. Look, he gave me these flowers."

We walk out into the humid streets of Maidstone and Lisa stops to buy a cold drink. "Eighty-five pence!" she says, holding out a 25 centilitre bottle. "Takes me an hour to earn that much... well, quarter of an hour anyway." Before the fall, Nick was expecting a bonus of pounds 450,000. Maidstone is a long way from Singapore.

"Singapore was a good opportunity for Nick, job-wise," she says mattter of factly, "and we thought it would only be for a year. It's extremely expensive living there. We couldn't afford a car for the first two-and- a-half years and we rented quite a modest condominium. If we wanted to go away for the weekend or out for dinner with friends, we could afford it, but usually when Nick got home at the end of a 12-hour day, he preferred to stay in."

Makes him sound almost like a homebody, not perhaps what most people thought of him after the frantic newspaper reports in February when he brought Barings bank down to well below its knees.

But as Lisa tells it, he was a good man to her. And Patsy, her loving and supportive mother, whom she's gone back to, will have nothing said against him. The arrest for lewd behaviour in a bar? "Look, it's the sort of thing a young man who'd had quite a lot of drinks might easily do. The lad pulled his trousers down - it was just his back view. It's normal behaviour nowadays; I've seen it happen in holiday camps.

"They're just a straightforward, ordinary young couple, and Nick got a bit out order one night - so what? If you put any person in this country under the sort of microscope they've been under, I bet you come up with far worse."

"We had planned", says Lisa, "to leave Singapore this year, in early April. We were looking forward to getting a house, settling down and starting a family. A house of my own was all I ever wanted; but we hadn't bought one yet, we couldn't afford it. If only...

"Nick was always under pressure. He could never sleep at night, so if I said 'how was it today?' he'd just sort of grunt. The first I knew he was in trouble was when he came home early one Thursday in February and said, 'Let's go away for the weekend - I need to think about things - I'm on the verge of a breakdown.' The next day, Friday, we went to the airport and found seats on a flight to Kota Kimablu. When we left the flat it never occurred to me that we would never go back. I had a return ticket to Singapore.

"When I got on the phone to my mum and told her we were OK, she said 'Ooh, Lisa, there's been a lot of press interest!' As the plane landed in Frankfurt I still thought we'd phone home, collect our luggage and jump on the next flight to London. The passengers were told there would be a passport check. Nick said 'Oh Lisa, you've got to be strong.' As we walked off the plane they noticed Leeson on my passport and said 'where's your man?' Nick was right behind me."

They were formally arrested and told to go to another part of the aiport. "Nick said 'will there be press?' and when they said yes he said, 'could we go a different way?' and they said no. Suddenly there were all these flashes and people calling us by our names and this American chap running alongside us to ask us questions. It was all over in a few seconds but I couldn't believe the number of photographers ...it was terrifying.

"They said they had to detain Nick over night and I should say goodbye, and that was the last time we were in freedom together. February."

"The Germans have treated him quite well, but he's lost a lot of weight and he looks very gaunt. He keeps getting eye and ear infections. It's not ill health, it's the worry. When we meet, there's always a guard in the room. You learn to ignore it but at the same time you're always conscious that there's someone else there. You can hold hands but not cuddle - they don't like that."

Lisa has been campaigning as best she can. She has a lawyer and somebody who advises her on the press. Even so, she gives off a genuine feeling of innocence that beguiles. Is there money that she knows about which is salted away? I think not. Did she know as little about what was going on in Singapore as she says? I am inclined to think so.

What she and Nick desperately hope is that he will be extradited to Britain for trial rather than to Singapore. Last Thursday, as she took off for her weekly trip to Frankfurt, she got the best news yet. In response to the documents his lawyers have submitted, which admit five charges justiciable under British law, the Serious Fraud Office is going to Germany to interview him. Could that possibly lead to a hearing in London? It will all take a long time whatever happens and one can think of many people who would rather he was tried in Singapore.

But for Lisa, even the 90p Madeira cake may taste a little sweeter

Comments