Graham Shear has given me indigestion. We meet at lunchtime for what turns into a two-hour interview. But there is no lunch, so I’m forced to scoff a sarnie while hotfooting it, late, to my next meeting.
Later, it is clear why it was that not even a slab of cheese and two slices of Mighty White was forthcoming. The Teacher Stern Selby partner is currently acting for three of the footballers and a Premiership club caught up in the media storm surrounding the Grosvenor House Hotel rape saga. Consequently, he appears to have lost his bodyclock.
He reveals at the end of our meeting, after I have dropped several rude hints about my grumbling stomach, that he completely forgot it was lunchtime. He is working seven-day weeks, he says. Friday nights are spent cajoling editors, threatening injunctions against newspapers and briefing counsel over what may be appearing about his footballer clients in the Sunday tabloids. All day Saturday is the same, while Sundays and Mondays are spent picking up the pieces of whatever the Sundays have thrown at him.
Monday lunchtime for Shear is just the end of one long stretch of work and the beginning of another: more threats, more cajoling, more trying to keep his clients’ reputations intact before the next set of Sunday papers decide to ‘reveal all’.
Two of his clients have been interviewed under caution by police in connection with the Grosvenor House incident. That is all I can say here. The third player, Kieron Dyer, was named by tabloids as having been involved, but has released a statement to say he was nowhere near the hotel at the time of the alleged rape. Shear is “preparing a number of writs” on Dyer’s behalf, aimed mainly at newspapers but also at what he describes as “a range of other media”.
Given the stress this could be putting him under, it is unsurprising that lunch for Shear has been coffee and cigarettes. But there is no reason to be hard on him for his lack of prandial enthusiasm. After all, he did not ask to be interviewed. Before our meeting he had not even committed to talking on the record. His marketing woman, whose presence in Shear’s office I initially view with the same horror as the lack of a sandwich, is probably the reason I have been allowed to get the notepad out.
“I’ve never done an interview before… you know… about me,” he confides, before asking halfway through: “Do I look shit? I don’t want to seem arrogant.”
He has quite a bit to be arrogant about. It is clear from the most cursory glance around his office that his sporting client list is amazing. Four signed football shirts line the wall, including one from Kieron Dyer which reads ‘Thanks for saving my life’. A stack of document files under the desk is labelled ‘Stellar Management’, presumably referring to the company famous for managing high-profile sporting personalities. Since last Wednesday (22 October), Shear has also been acting for sprinter Dwain Chambers on his doping allegations.
Shear acts for Newcastle United FC and Watford FC, but his main sporting practice is for individual sportspeople, including tennis players and athletes, along with the footballers. Alongside 5 Raymond Buildings libel barrister David Sherborne, he is also advising Manchester United FC player Rio Ferdinand on his travails with the Football Association following his missed drugs test.
Shear, however, insists that he is not a sports or media lawyer, but rather a commercial litigator with an interesting and high-profile sideline. His comprehensive client list includes property investors, telecommunications companies and major corporates in the Cuban music industry.
“My commercial clients are very demanding and I give them the time that they need. What I love about this job is that I can be working on a major administration or a telecommunications case one minute, and then I’m back working with sportspeople or television personalities. Sport and media is about 30-40 per cent of my work,” he explains.
Whatever Shear calls himself, most media lawyers would give their eyeteeth to be on the Grosvenor House case, which is turning out to be groundbreaking.
It was Shear, again instructing Sherborne, who persuaded the Attorney-General to intervene in the case to tell newspapers not to name the two footballing clients who were interviewed by the police. This unprecedented step is likely to influence the new Sexual Offences Bill, currently winding its way through the House of Commons. It could end up demanding anonymity for anyone interviewed in connection with a rape.
Shear and Sherborne also took the unprecedented step of contacting companies with servers carrying email traffic that circulated the names of players suspected to be involved in the rape and shutting those servers down.
This was an exciting and novel step, but you have to question its logic. Excuse the amateur sociology, but what is an email anyway? An extension of innocent social chitchat, or a published communication equivalent to a letter, a newspaper article or a book? The average call centre worker gossiping about football with his mates on the work email would hardly call himself an author, but Shear disagrees.
“This [email] is not a conversation that’s only capable of being heard by one or two people. It’s not speech, it’s writing that’s capable of being viewed by millions,” he argues. “You can’t stop water cooler chat, but at least you know there’s a limit on who people are speaking to. If one email is sent to another eight to nine people, then the thing grows exponentially, and that’s when you get into the area of defamation and people’s reputations being damaged.”
Whatever the arguments, this is an emerging area of law and Shear is likely to find himself thrust on to the media lawyers’ seminar circuit to talk about it quite soon. This may not be ideal for a lawyer who likes to keep an incredibly low profile. Several well-known media lawyers quizzed in preparation for this interview say they do not know who he is. On being told of his track record, though, one managing partner of a mid-sized entertainment firm said he would be keen to offer Shear a job. But the man himself is loyal to Teacher Stern.
Shear is only 40 but is one of the most senior lawyers at his firm. He is one of the firm’s three-strong management team and chairs partnership meetings, although he has no official title. He also likes the variety of work, from property and insolvency to footballers, which he believes another firm could not give him.
“How many partners in other firms would allow me to work in this variety of areas?” he asks. “That freedom is incredibly important if you like being stimulated by different challenges. The people here are a great bunch. It’s a young practice and one that I’ve helped build up.”
So, this low-profile lawyer who works out of a tiny Holborn firm, where he is considered a general commercial litigator, is happy to stay put. Lucky Teacher Stern. But I suspect there are going to be more than a few offers on the table. Should he change his mind, he could at least end up somewhere with in-house catering.
Teacher Stern Selby