The trials of a lawyer in the limelight

Representing Nick Leeson has propelled Stephen Pollard into a high-profile world. He tells David Hellier how he's bearing up
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The Independent Online
T he past seven months have been a novel experience for Stephen Pollard, the man who has been representing Nick Leeson, the former Barings trader now languishing in a Frankfurt jail. Pollard, a partner at the City law firm of Kingsley Napley, says that nothing he has ever experienced has quite prepared him for the deluge of publicity surrounding the case.

"While this firm has had the experience of high-profile cases in the past, like the Jeremy Thorpe case, or the Blue Arrow or Barlow Clowes fraud cases, there has been nothing that could have prepared me or the firm for this. The width and the consistent depth of interest, not just from the UK but from overseas too, has just not gone away. It has been relentless."

There are some who say that Pollard has orchestrated the whole press campaign himself, that he signed up Sir Tim Bell, Baroness Thatcher's favourite spin doctor, and organised a carefully planned campaign to pressure the British authorities into seeking his client's extradition to the UK.

To an extent they are right. Pollard does not deny that he sought advice from a public relations specialist and admits that another colleague in his firm sought out Sir Tim at an early stage in the proceedings for an initial sounding. But he rejects the suggestion that he has always had a master plan.

"I think what we have done has evolved from day to day. I'm not saying we haven't sponsored some of the media's interest, but I have not had a master plan.

"I had to correct the misapprehension from an early stage that Nick Leeson was a mindless yob from Watford and that this was a Singaporean matter that had no relevance to the UK ... but I never dreamt at the end of June that we were going to end up doing all this."

During the past few weeks Pollard has held two London press conferences, he has brokered an interview for his client with Sir David Frost on national television, and he has accompanied Lisa, the former trader's wife, to countless television interviews, both on network and cable channels.

Pollard focused his attention on domestic opinion, having been advised that he would be wasting his time trying to use public pressure to persuade the German authorities against accepting the Singapore extradition application. He always felt that if he could get the UK authorities to make a move, the German authorities would put up little opposition to it. "When it was clear to the Serious Fraud Office that he was going to confess to serious offences here, I thought that he would be brought back here for trial.

"It was only when the SFO said that they did not wish to go to Frankfurt that I thought we had to get up a head of steam. It has been a very exceptional case in that until last week there were no charges against my client in the UK. That has given us more freedom to explain our case than one normally gets in a criminal case."

Pollard, who is in his mid-thirties, joined Kingsley Napley, possibly the best-known criminal law firm in London, after a spell with the Crown Prosecution Service. After an Oxford education, he was articled with Payne Hicks and Beach as a commercial lawyer.

Later he changed to crime. "I got fed up arguing about other people's money," he says, adding that he finds criminal work much more fundamental.

He was chosen for the Leeson case by his firm partly because he speaks German, but mainly because of his experience of working on cases involving the futures and options markets. His first taste of this world came in 1990 when he represented two directors of DPR Futures, who were acquitted after an SFO trial in which they were charged with conspiracy to defraud. That experience led to Pollard representing a number of other clients before the Securities and Futures Association, one of the City's more aggressive regulatory bodies.

He appears to have survived, if not enjoyed, being in the limelight during the current case, although he has found it exceptionally stressful. "In most cases, if you do something wrong, you just have the client to answer to," he says. "In this case, the spotlight is such that there are potentially very high benefits but equally potentially high disbenefits."

John Coyle, a public relations adviser whose clients have included George Walker, who endured and walked free from a long SFO trial, says of Pollard's work on the Leeson case: "If the object of the exercise was to get the trial over here, then I suppose it has failed miserably.

"But as a public relations campaign, I think he's made a good fist of it. It was a good move to use Lisa. She came across very well. The only way of getting Leeson over here was to create a clamour and I think he did as well as he could to do that. Perhaps the ammunition just was not there in the end."

As for Pollard, he appears to have been genuinely moved by his client's troubles. "I've grown fond of the clients, Lisa and her parents ... but at the moment I cannot think of anything else I can really do."

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