Older, wiser - and pounds 100,000 richer

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HEATHROW AIRPORT early yesterday had all the signs of gearing up for a celebrity arrival. Bleary-eyed media thronged the arrival area, puzzled passengers asked who exactly was flying in and officials anxiously discussed security with police. At the nearby Hilton Hotel final touches were applied to the room reserved for a press conference.

Sitting in his pounds 1,680 Club class seat on board BA flight 016, Nick Leeson had just finished a light breakfast while receiving a last-minute briefing from his urbane and expensive solicitor, Stephen Pollard. Earlier he had dined on asparagus and grilled fillet of beef washed down with a sauvignon and a claret; a pleasant change from the food at his last address, Tanah Merah prison in Singapore. Elsewhere on the plane, journalists were continuing to complain bitterly to the the air crew about the airline's "royalty treatment" of the convicted fraudster, whom they had been prevented from approaching.

Leeson, the "rogue trader" who lost pounds 850m, broke Britain's oldest bank and sent a tremor through the international finance community, was coming home after serving four years and four months of his prison sentence. It had been a traumatic experience, but the future was not all gloomy. Few convicts could say that one of their first tasks after coming out of prison would be to collect pounds 100,000 from a newspaper, the Daily Mail, for talking about his crime.

Emerging from the aircraft, Leeson looked tired and older than on the familiar photographs, the result perhaps ofhis chemotherapy treatment for cancer of the colon. What he did not look or act was the slightest bit contrite about what he had done. He had changed from his white, blue and red American soccer jersey to a pale blue shirt and chinos. Minders hustled him through the mass of photographers and cameramen.

An hour and fifteen minutes later Leeson and Mr Pollard walked into the press conference. At his lawyer's instructions, Leeson, relaxed and occasionally smiling, waited for the initial photo session to end before reading from a prepared statement.

He spoke of his delight to be back in England. "I have been in prison in a foreign land for four years and four months. Just to be home, and to see my family, is something I have longed for all the time. I have really looked forward to doing the ordinary things - like being able to have a cup of tea or drink with my mates, when I want to, where I want to."

Then came the apology: "I want to state clearly here that I did wrong. I am not proud of my activities as a trader with Barings Bank in Singapore. I was foolish and very much regret what happened. But I have done my time. I have taken my punishment - and now I want to get on with the job of rebuilding my life." Leeson ended by talking about the need to continue with his medical treatment and how he had discovered who his real friends are in adversity. And then he departed with minders from the Mail.

But not everything is going according to the script. A group of bondholders who lost their savings in the Barings collapse are considering a prosecution in Britain. Ernst & Young, Barings liquidators, have obtained an injunction freezing his assets apart from pounds 5,000 a month to spend on medical and legal expenses. The injunction is specifically aimed at the money he made from his biography, Rogue Trader, and its film adaptation starring Ewan McGregor, as well as the money he will make from the Mail.

However, Mr Pollard said the pounds 450,000 Leeson had received from film rights had already gone in legal and medical fees, taxes and payments to agents etc. Virtually the only assets his client had now were contained in the kitbag he had carried down from the plane - his football jersey, training shoes and a baseball cap. Mr Pollard had to buy him a pair of shoes and the airline ticket was on his credit card to be billed back by his firm, Kingsley Napley.

Leeson had also brought his photograph albums with him. Many of the snaps show him in the heady days of wheeling and dealing in London and Singapore, he and his colleagues toasting success with champagne and arrays of cocktails. There are also photos of him and his former wife, Lisa, whom he had met in the City.

After Leeson's arrest and imprisonment, Lisa worked in a teashop and then got a job as an airline stewardess so she could visit him more often in Singapore. But the couple divorced after the publication of the biography. She is said to have been upset by graphic details of their personal life being revealed and also by learning the "full extent of the double life he had led". The former Mrs Leeson has now married another City trader, Keith Horlock, and is said to be pregnant.

Leeson, who returned to his family home in Watford, Hertfordshire, yesterday, is a keen fan of Manchester City Football Club and, in letters to friends, has talked about their bad patch coinciding with his own difficulties. However, he appears to feel both are temporary blips, saying "What is City's equivalent of my incarceration? A couple of seasons in division two or worse?"

Mr Pollard is also optimistic about his client's job prospects. He disagreed with suggestions that Leeson was now unemployable in the City. He was sure, he said, there would be "lots of extraordinary offers".

But the most ideal, he felt, would be as a compliance officer for a financial institution, ensuring his colleagues did not get up to any mischief. "He would make a very good compliance officer," he said. He appeared to be serious. One knew then that the Nick Leeson circus was well and truly in town.

Job Advice From The Experts

Sir Bernard Ingham, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher

"He should disappear completely from sight. The whole affair is so tawdry. If he had any sense that would be what he would want to do as well as what he ought to do. I don't know about whether he could find another job because I don't know what talents he has. He should not talk to the media and try to glamorise his crime."

Anna Raeburn, agony aunt

"He will need to make some money because I don't think he can expect to live off the state for the next 30 years. But what can he do? I can't see that banks will be queuing up to re-employ him so he will have to retrain. Perhaps he should go off and do good works for a couple of years, teaching literacy for a voluntary programme or counselling people with cancer."

Max Clifford, publicity adviser

"The key is in changing the perception of what he has done. If he took the line `I'm the fall guy and I'm to blame but there are a lot others who have got away with it' he would start to win sympathy. If he named the real perpetrators then he could earn a lot of money. Someone might want him to keep an eye on illegal practices. The best gamekeepers are often the best poachers."

Oliver James, clinical psychologist and author of `Britain on the Couch'

"He has a 30 per cent chance of being dead in five years and his wife has left him so that is already quite sobering for him. It's a question of whether he has any conscience about what has happened ... I would have thought he would find it hard to find any sort of job and that his only hope would be to see if one of his friends could fix anything up for him."