Foul, abusive and embarrassing language - it's par for the course on the floor of Liffe

A top trader on the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange, the biggest derivatives exchange in Europe, has been fined for using "foul, abusive and embarrassing" language against a member of staff.

Colin "Ned" Kelly, who works at one of Liffe's most prestigious firms, Hills Independent Traders, was fined pounds 500 for abusing one of the Exchange's floor-based "observers".

About 18 months ago Mr Kelly, who is reputed to earn more than pounds 250,000 a year, was the subject of a complaint that he abused a black trader. It was alleged that he jumped up and down, imitating a baboon and making monkey noises at the trader.

Colleagues of Mr Kelly said the fine, levied in the past month or so and notified on the Exchange's disciplinary noticeboard, was notable for its relative severity.

Each month, a number of fines of pounds 50 or more are levied against Liffe's young traders for a range of offences, including swearing, jostling, flicking trading cards at each other, moving out of their allotted positions, even fighting in the trading floor's pits, where business activity takes place daily.

Mr Kelly's behaviour was considered graver by Liffe's disciplinary body because the person he abused was one of its officials rather than a colleague.

Traders suggested the pattern of fines levied by the Exchange is symptomatic of an aggressive, racist culture pervasive among Liffe's traders, many of them young men who have come on to the trading floor straight from school. The culture of aggressive "work and play" that prevails at Liffe is said to be fostered by intense competition in the pits, where trading is carried out by hundreds of people in "open outcry", striking deals by traditional face-to-face methods.

"We are not all like this, but there are some serious animals down there," one trader said. "There are some people who you would not like to meet in a pub at 10.30pm, after they have had a few drinks."

In one incident last year, trouble among traders flared after a meal in a private dining room at one of London's most exclusive restaurants turned into an ugly fracas in which the police were called, although no criminal charges were brought.

On another occasion, a traders' night out in a curry house in the Brick Lane area of east London ended in a fight when, in a case of mistaken identity, local Bengali youths believed the diners were members of a neo-Nazi organisation.

In September, sniffer dogs were brought on to the trading floor after a young trader was caught with cannabis. Other traders said that while spot searches had reduced the likelihood of drugs being discovered, the use of cocaine and "speed", or amphetamine sulphate, was still relatively common among traders.

One trader who no longer works in the pit but deals by telephone, said: "You have to remember that we are talking about people who may be trading on their own behalf and could be losing several thousands of pounds in a matter of minutes. It's hardly surprising that in the heat of the moment they could scream abuse at each other."

A trader who has been at Liffe for some 18 months, said: "If you are black you will get called nigger, jungle bunny or things like that. Some guys will just have a go. Racism should not be a thing that happens but when people get put together in a stressful environment it does go on."

Another trader, a member of the Liffe board, who refused to be named, said: "Sure, there are some people who will scream and shout. But this is a high-testosterone business, with those working in it aged between 18 and 30. Some are even younger. The things they get up to are typical of your average working-class kid.

"I can honestly say that things like racism don't go on here. I've got an Asian and a West Indian guy working for me and they don't get any abuse.

"There might be the odd word, like if you have a certain type of hair they might call you Curly. But if you were balding, you might be called Skull. It is part of banter and will come from your own colleagues, not from other firms."

While up to 30 per cent of those on the Liffe floor are now women, most carry out back-office functions or are "yellow-jackets", runners between traders and their firm's box. The Exchange said yesterday that it does not keep records of people from ethnic minorities who work on the floor.

Karin Forseke, director of operations and surveillance at Liffe, yesterday refused to give details of any fine levied on Mr Kelly, saying it was not the Exchange's practice to announce disciplinary action taken against members. Mr Kelly could not be contacted for comment.

Steve Hills, joint managing director of Hills Independent Traders and also a member of the Liffe board, confirmed yesterday that Mr Kelly had been fined by the Exchange.

"One of the things that highlight a good trader is 'pit awareness', where you are aware of what is happening 20 feet away even when everyone around you is shouting their heads off," Mr Hills said.

"Colin is tall and very broad and when he shouts, I can sometimes hear him 20 yards away in my box, above all the other shouting.

"I think Colin was upset that one of his trades was not heard and he may have felt that he was being ignored. He moved across the other side of the pit [to make the trade] and was then asked [by an 'observer'] to get back.

"He may have shouted at the official a bit. Colin now accepts that what he did was wrong and that whatever happens you do not have a go at the referee." Mr Hills said he backed Liffe's get-tough policy against traders, particularly in cases of abuse of officials.

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