Watford's different class of banker

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The Independent Online
MARY BRAID

From council house in downtown Watford to Singapore slayer of the Queen's bank - the class chasm between Nick Leeson and Barings was almost as central to the story as the lost pounds 860m.

Singapore police and reporters chased Leeson to Malaysia after the scandal broke, rocking the world's financial markets. At home his shell-shocked family - his father Harry, a plasterer, and his three younger brothers and sisters - were also being pursued to provide a picture of the working- class boy who broke Britain's oldest merchant bank.

From Watford and Singapore emerged two very different profiles. At the local Parmiters School they were stunned by the former prefect's new-found notoriety. Nick was remembered as "quiet" dependable and steady. Failing A-level maths proved no obstacle to a career in banking. He left school to work for Coutts before joining Barings in 1990.

In 1992 he married Lisa. When the news broke his stunned father-in-law Alex Simms was loyal. Nick, he claimed, was a sensible lad. He was sure he was innocent.

But colleagues and acquaintances in Singapore said Leeson was arrogant and flash. At work he was regarded as a miracle worker, the man who took risks and could not lose. "He seemed to be able to move markets," remembered one fellow trader.

The cocky trader image was one Leeson sought hard to shed. In an interview with David Frost he played down the "extravagance" of his old Singapore lifestyle and reports of luxury apartments and personal yachts.

Last month, however, when Leeson was reeled back in to Singapore it was the arrogant Nick - broad grin under the reversed baseball cap - that reappeared. But surely the other Nick was hiding beneath the hubris. For the horror of his situation must have long sunk home and Singaporean justice will not look lightly on a man it considers to have damaged the squeaky-clean image of its financial centre.

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