Stephen Pollard is not a man to be trifled with, especially when it comes to his most famous client, rogue trader Nick Leeson, the man who will be forever linked to bringing down Britain’s oldest merchant bank, Barings.
After the hour-long interview, the partner in the criminal and regulatory department of Kingsley Napley says that Leeson is sitting in a room just feet away, waiting to see his lawyer. I naturally let my curiosity get the better of me and asked for an introduction.
“No! That’s too much,” Pollard barked, before hastily handshaking me out of the door.He is very protective of Leeson: “I like the man. He was committed to his case but took advice.
“He was entirely consistent. What he told me on the first day is the same thing he is still telling me today.”
But Pollard’s association with the case may never have happened had it not been for a City of London detective. The German authorities had finally caught up with Leeson in February 1995 as he desperately attempted to fly back from Singapore to London via Germany.
After his capture in Frankfurt, the British consul offered Leeson a list of German lawyers, but believing that he would soon be returning to England, Leeson asked for a British lawyer instead.
Pollard says: “By this time the City of London police had arrived and the consul told them that Leeson wanted another criminal lawyer.
“So a detective, God bless him, says ‘It’s got to be Kingsley Napley’.”
Pollard’s career may well have taken a different tack. He did not start out as a criminal lawyer. In 1987 he was working as a commercial litigator at Payne Hicks Beach.
“I didn’t find the prospect of arguing about other people’s money very enticing,” he says ironically.
Brian Spiro, criminal litigation partner at Simons Muirhead & Burton, describes Pollard’s move to Kingsley Napley in 1989.
“He was determined to work at Kingsley Napley but they told him that he needed greater advocacy experience,” he says.
“While some people might have taken that as a rejection, Stephen went out and got the experience. He did a year at the CPS.”
Pollard clearly enjoys his work on criminal fraud cases. “With commercial litigators, I don’t know what the percentage is, but only a minute number of cases are brought to and through trial.
“But in criminal cases it almost always ends in trial. This gives you a much sharper focus when you are discussing or considering evidential matters for example.
“In criminal law you are considering them in the knowledge that they will be a live issue.”
While Pollard is highly recognised for extensive experience in other cases, which include defending and securing an acquittal on behalf of football manager Lou Macari in the revenue prosecution of Swindon Town FC, he will now always be associated with Leeson not least in terms of intense media interest.
“When the Leeson case reached its height in 1995 and again recently on his release, it was rather unpleasant. Not that anyone has been aggressive or unpleasant to me but just because the level of media was such that it takes you over.
“Unlike most areas of work that are more or less confined to the office – which means you can retain some sort of family life outside – with that degree of media interest it is very difficult to do.”
The experience has clearly left its mark on Pollard. “I don’t take my work home with me metaphorically or actually. But in 1995 it took me over,” he says.
“I’m not Mother Teresa, I didn’t spend every night worrying over it.”
Pollard had to pursue an increasingly disinterested Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in an attempt to get Leeson extradited back to the UK. He was determined to make sure that the former trader stood trial in the UK rather than being isolated in a prison several thousands of miles away in Singapore.
Pollard explains that Leeson was fully prepared to admit his guilt and provide information to the SFO which “would have been of great interest to the regulators”.
He says: “I fondly thought that the SFO would be interested in extraditing him here because it was basically a no-lose situation for them.
“The whole thing was very unusual.
“It is very rare as a defence lawyer that you are arguing your client’s guilt or contriving a situation where others can prove your client’s guilt. It all went back to my original instruction which was to get Nick back to London.”
But the Singapore authorities were opposed to this.
“They were furious. Here was a man who brought disrepute on their exchange, who, in truth, had shown up the inadequacies of their exchange in terms of control and compliance.”
With one country baying for Leeson’s blood and the other not caring where he ended up as long as it wasn’t back in the UK, Pollard took drastic measures.
“Just to prove how topsy-turvy it became, I found myself sending the SFO Nick’s proof of evidence. This is the most confidential document you can probably ever have.”
Pollard even sent questions for the SFO to ask his client – with no result.
“It was at that point that I realised that the only means we had of putting pressure on them was publicity.”
The little press attention that Pollard did manage to get for Leeson helped to persuade the SFO to come out to Frankfurt and interview him.
But things were not moving the way Pollard wanted.
“They were only going through the motions.
“It was not going to result in a change of heart about proceeding with the extradition so by that stage I had chosen a Singapore representative.”
Leeson finally went to face the court in Singapore in early December 1995. He faced on two charges of misleading the auditors of Barings in Singapore and misleading the Singapore stock exchange, SIMEX, on his margin.
He was given just under the maximum sentence of eight years despite the amount of positive mitigation that had been presented to the court.
“The judge came in and it was if we had not bothered,” says Pollard.
At the beginning of Leeson’s imprisonment in Tanah Merah jail, Pollard had trouble seeing his own client, as the Singapore government would only recognise his local lawyer on the island, John Koh.
“I had a difficult relationship with the Singaporean authorities, shall we say,” admits Pollard.
“I couldn’t write to him with legal privilege, so I would write letters by hand.
“My handwriting is pretty dreadful and I would pitch it so it was sufficiently dreadful enough that the censor would get fed up of trying to read it.
“I would use slang to communicate a meaning that the censor would not fully appreciate.”
Now that Leeson is back in the UK, Pollard hopes that his dealings with the press will begin to fade away.
“I have told him that I will represent him as long as he wants me and until my function becomes redundant.
“If he does not want to carry on paying me at a point when he has sorted things out and he is confident enough to control the press and the media interest on his own, then he should do it himself and not pay me to do it.”
However, Pollard says sadly: “I think he will always need my help from time to time.
“He will always be known now as the man who brought down the bank.”