Rogue trader gets three years for destroying leading City broker

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The Independent Online

A rogue city trader, who wiped out the Square Mile's leading independent broker in a single afternoon of financial madness, was jailed for three years and nine months yesterday.

A rogue city trader, who wiped out the Square Mile's leading independent broker in a single afternoon of financial madness, was jailed for three years and nine months yesterday.

Despite the mounting concern of senior executives at Sussex Futures, 24-year-old Stephen Humphries repeatedly lied about his trading position as his losses rose, Southwark Crown Court in London was told. He eventually fled the building, but by that time the once highly respected and "very successful" company was £750,000 in the red, said Martin Hicks, for the prosecution.

The barrister continued: "During that afternoon of Friday, 6 August 1999, during a period of one hour, 32 minutes, the company's hard-earned reputation and value was destroyed at a stroke ... by the fraudulent trading activity of one man, Stephen Humphries."

He told the court that although staff worked "day and night" for weeks on end, 20 traders lost their jobs while the company went from bad to worse. "By the following year it had ceased trading with losses of £2.3m."

The barrister said that had not the firm's founder and owner, John Sussex, ploughed £600,000 of his own money into the company's coffers, the financial suffering of scores of staff would have been much greater.

Humphries, now 25, of Feltham, west London, looked stunned as Judge Denis Levy rejected a plea for leniency by his defence barrister and told him immediate imprisonment was inevitable.

"In the course of an afternoon ... you ruined not only your own career, but the career of many others and you caused a prosperous company, Sussex Futures Limited, to go into liquidation. Having heard the gravity of the offence, a deliberate gambling of other people's money over a very short period with disastrous results, nothing but a custodial sentence is appropriate."

Humphries, who had admitted one count of fraudulently trading in gilt futures contracts, then walked unsteadily from the dock.

After his arrest Humphries told officers that he did not believe he had "behaved criminally or fraudulently", he had just made a mistake. He went on to explain he had tried to trade his way out of trouble but the market had swung against him and, despite everything he did, things simply got worse.

Simon Ward, for the defence, told the court: "This is a tragic and very upsetting case. He was 24, under intense financial and personal pressure and, in effect, lost his head at the roulette table. The London International Financial Futures Exchange is a little bit like gambling.

"On 6 August he started to dig a hole for himself, like a man losing at the roulette table ... the position got worse and he was just numb, trying desperately to rectify the position. He is now deeply sorry for what he has done," Mr Ward added.