This is not my tragedy. That's what I told the reporter when I laid a flower at the spot where Scot Young fell to his death on Monday evening. I wrote yesterday that I'd witnessed the immediate aftermath of this profoundly shocking episode, and, at the time of writing, I didn't know the identity of the body I'd seen impaled on the railings. We now know that the victim was the man who, in the shorthand of newspaper headlines, is referred to as “£20m divorce tycoon”. Mr Young had indeed been at the centre of an infamous divorce battle, well covered in the papers, and which culminated in his being sentenced to six months in jail.
There is nothing about this story that fills me with anything but deep dismay, and when I passed the scene and saw nothing but a missing section of railings to mark the end of a human life, I was moved to lay a single lily. I have never done this before, rather snootily dismissing the people who laid tributes for someone they'd never met as grief tourists. I was immediately buttonholed by a reporter, who wanted to know what my relationship to Mr Young is or was. Never having met him, I found it hard to explain why I'd left a flower without sounding like I was co-opting this tragedy for myself, so I just said I thought it was a neighbourly act.
Having followed the Scot Young divorce case in the papers - this awful courtroom battle lasted a full six years - I felt as if I did in fact know him. The picture of him, champagne glass in hand, with his model girlfriend, the picture of his ex-wife, posing demurely in white blouse and dark slacks, the nine-bedroom Palladian house in Oxfordshire, the other trappings of a millionaire lifestyle: we'd seen them all, day after day, illustrating this acrimonious divorce battle.
The figures discussed in court were truly eye-watering. Mr Young, who'd built a substantial business empire over the course of their 17-year marriage, offered her a settlement of £300 million in 2009- which he seemingly later said was a joke - , and the next year said he'd been wiped out by a disastrous deal and couldn't afford to pay. (The precise nature of Mr Young's work, and the source of his erstwhile fortune, is hard to pin down, but it involved property and financial deal-making.)
Through this very public legal contest, Mr Young became a familiar figure, and the more I read about his case, the more it made me despair of the adversarial nature of our divorce laws, which work to the advantage of no one other than the lawyers (the former Mrs Young is said to have racked up a legal bill of £6m). The final ruling in this affair, in November 2013, was that Mr Young should pay his ex-wife £20m: it is thought she never received this money.
In concluding this case in November 2013, Mr Justice Moor said that “in many respects, this is about as bad an example of how to litigate as I have encountered.” He added that he had “nothing but sympathy” for the couple's two daughters. These are words which have a truly terrible resonance this morning.Reuse content