There has been an outpouring of grief following the passing of Herbert Smith Freehills’ Rod Fletcher, one of the UK’s most esteemed white-collar and business crime lawyers, who had a career spanning over 30 years.

Fletcher, who was 62, was regarded by his peers as exceptionally capable and with excellent judgment, leading people to instruct and refer cases to him because they trusted how well he handled his work. Fletcher was meticulous, efficient and thorough – qualities that instilled great confidence in his colleagues and clients.

Rod Fletcher, Herbert Smith Freehills

Hired as the leader of HSF’s corporate crime and investigations team in April 2013, Fletcher was one of the first people to move from a boutique practice to a City firm and make it a real success. He brought with him a bounty of experience in all aspects of white-collar and business crime and regulation, having also headed the team at legacy Russell Jones & Walker (which had become Slater & Gordon one year previously). It was at HSF that he took on a case handling a case for ex-Barclays banker Roger Jenkins, notwithstanding his then recent diagnosis with cancer.

Graduating from Birmingham University in 1978, he started his legal career at Kingsley Napley, where he was articled to Christopher Murray, who then went on to become senior partner in 2007. As one of the earliest practitioners of white-collar crime, a key trigger for Fletcher’s career was the development of The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in the late 1980s.

After joining Russell Jones & Walker (RJW) in the 1980s, Fletcher paved a career as a leading litigator, seeing through many of the major public inquiries and inquests of the last three decades. The year before, the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) had been introduced, and Fletcher set about building up RJW’s criminal team. In particular, the firm was known for acting for the Police Federation and its members, and Fletcher worked on some of the largest and most high-profile police disciplinary trials of the time. This included acting via the Police Federation for PC Patrick Hodgson, thought to be the first police officers charged with murder arising from an incident in the line of duty in 1996. Fletcher had indomitable spirit and was dedicated to his team, who worked 12-hour days to see the trials through.

In the mid-1990s, Rod was involved in the Maxwell case, a trial surrounded by a blaze of media coverage, concerning allegations of more than £100m of fraud. The trial of Ian and Kevin Maxwell – sons of newspaper baron Robert Maxwell – and two co-defendants, Larry Tratchenberg and Robert Bunn, attracted the premier league of white-collar crime legal experts. Fletcher acted for Tratchenberg, an American financial aide to Robert Maxwell, who, following an eight-month trial, was acquitted alongside the Maxwell brothers and Bunn.

Speaking of his work, former colleague and Slater & Gordon lawyer Scott Ingram said: “His CV of cases is up there with the best in his field. The Maxwell-Mirror Group case where he was involved in the first challenge to the SFO section 2 power to compel answers, as well as LIBOR, Barings, Bute Mining, Balfour Beatty and the Hatfield train derailment.

“His public inquiry work included the Arms to Iraq Scott Inquiry, the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, the Marchioness Inquiry and the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.”

Over the 1990s and early 2000s, Fletcher had the vision to expand the practice deeper into business crime and regulatory work. Ropes & Gray’s Judith Seddon, who qualified into RJW’s criminal department in 1997 and worked with Fletcher until she joined Clifford Chance in 2008, said that much of her team’s success was down to his patience and support as a leader.

“As a young lawyer Rod offered me equal opportunities to my colleagues, encouraging me to speak at events. He was a great figure to all the lawyers in the team and was someone who praised and inspired” Seddon states.

“I remember after a long police corruption trial, in which I had worked incredibly hard, I told Rod I was taking an extended holiday and went travelling for three months. Rod hardly batted an eyelid. He expected high standards and hard work but was exceptionally generous in return.”

RJW sparked some of the brightest stars in litigation today and the career paths of Rod’s former team are testament to his leadership. The team was made up of lawyers including Seddon, Liz Dux (Littleton Chambers), Neil Blundell (Macfarlanes), Jeremy Summers (Osborne Clarke), Ben Brandon (Mishcon de Reya), Tom Epps (Cooley), Shula De Jersey (BCL Solicitors) and Scott Ingram (Slater & Gordon), who spread their wings and went on to lead the top business crime units in the City. Fletcher and Ingram were co-partners of RJW’s criminal team for over 25 years and were both anchors of the department.

Fletcher took on cases that were truly groundbreaking. In 2008, he also represented Balfour Beatty in securing a settlement with the SFO involving the use of civil recovery powers; the first against a major UK company. While at HSF, he was instructed by ICBC Standard Bank, the former unit of South Africa’s Standard Bank, on its plans to enter into the first-ever UK deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with the SFO. For confessing that it failed to stop bribery in a Tanzanian bond issuance and signing the DPA, ICBC avoided the expense and time of a lengthy court process, instead only seeing a judge in the final stages of the negotiations. Lord Justice Leveson, who approved the DPA, hailed the team’s work as the benchmark against which future such applications may fall to be assessed”

In 2003 Fletcher was appointed a Recorder of the Crown Court. Brian Spiro, a partner at HSF who had known him for 30 years and worked alongside him at the firm for two, refers to the technical brilliance he had that gained him such prestigious posts. “His skills as a lawyer meant he could not only quickly assimilate new statutes and case law but also then apply them in practice. It is one thing to understand the law from a textbook, but another to be at the coalface and apply it in court in the way that Rod did.”

He was also a founding member and secretary of the Association of Regulatory and Disciplinary Lawyers, which, after being established in 2002, now has in excess of 750 members. “He established networking opportunities that most lawyers in the field have enjoyed over many years,” says Scott Ingram. Fletcher also held the role of vice chair of the Criminal Law Committee of the International Bar Association and member of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association.

When he wasn’t in court, Fletcher loved sailing and was a deft golfer. He played rugby in his youth, though in his later years moved away from playing to spectating and was a regular at Twickenham. He was an English rugby fan.

But above all, Rod was known as a gentleman and a man of extraordinary integrity.

“He was one of life’s truly lovely people,” states Michael O’Kane, senior partner at Peters & Peters, who worked alongside him on a number of cases. “He never had an edge to him.” O’Kane continued that he was tremendous company and the two would bump into each other outside of the UK at IBA events, where he would often bring his wife Linda with him. “He was one of the few people that would laugh at my jokes.”

Rod’s incredible dedication to his work was enduring. Until the very end, he had been discussing a trial he had on at the Old Bailey at the hospital with colleagues from HSF.

HSF said that Fletcher “would be sorely missed by the London team, the global practice and the entire firm. Our thoughts are with his wife, Linda, his children and the friends and family whom he leaves behind.”

Messages of condolence

James Palmer, senior partner, HSF: “It is with great sadness that I must tell you – as some of you will already know – that our partner Rod Fletcher passed away on 6 November after a long illness.

“Rod joined Herbert Smith Freehills six years ago – and in that relatively short time, made a tremendous difference to our business, and to us as his colleagues and friends.

“Rod was a highly talented lawyer with a passion for the law, and for the clients he served. Over a career spanning more than three decades, Rod became one of the UK’s leading corporate crime and investigations specialists. His death is a huge loss to the legal profession.

“Even with nearly 30 years of working life behind him, Rod approached his role in our firm with the enthusiasm and energy of a newly made-up partner. His successes are too numerous to name here. But, just as one example: Rod headed the team that acted for ICBC Standard Bank in the UK’s first Deferred Prosecution Agreement (also the first resolution of an enforcement action under section 7 of the Bribery Act 2010), following UK and US investigations into suspected bribery in Africa. Lord Justice Leveson, who signed off on the deal at the time, said the case “should create the benchmark against which future such applications may fall to be assessed”. Rod was, as Legal 500 put it, “a legend”.

“While it goes without saying that we will miss Rod’s professional contribution, for many of us, this news also brings an enormous personal loss. Rod loved being part of our firm not just for the satisfaction he took in practising law – but also for the joy he found in being with his colleagues.

“Good-humoured and generous, Rod was the embodiment of what it means to be among the best in the business and also be the best kind of person. He brought people together across teams and offices; he gave his time freely and let others benefit from his expertise; he was patient and unflappable, even under pressure. Rod cared for and respected those around him – and was well-loved and well-respected in return. We will miss him deeply and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time.”

Liz Dux, Littleton Chambers: “Rod Fletcher was one of the most inspirational lawyers I have ever worked with. Not only hugely knowledgeable and practical but always utterly charming and he possessed a unique way of making clients feel reassured even in the most stressful of situations. It was a delight to spend time with him. He led by example, working very hard and regarding every case as equally important. He was supported throughout his time at RJW by his very close colleague and friend, Scott Ingram and by his loyal secretary, Irene Rumble.

“It is a testament to Rod’s skills and personality that everyone who worked in his department, wanted to stay there. Rod nurtured a vast range of talented business crime lawyers who are now very big names in their own right.

“Rod commanded huge respect amongst all partners at RJW. Most often the voice of reason that we would all listen to. He would light up a room with his presence and good humour. Known affectionately to us all as “The Silver Fox” and the George Clooney of RJW.”

Christopher Murray, former senior partner of Kingsley Napley: “When I visited Rod in hospital shortly before died, he introduced me to the crowd of friends and family gathered at his bedside, as “Christopher, my first boss.“

“Rod had joined Kingsley Napley in the early 1980s as what was then known as an articled clerk. This was shortly after the firm had successfully defended Jeremy Thorpe. Whilst he was not articled to me, he worked almost exclusively with me on an enormous mortgage fraud investigation. He quickly proved his worth, not only as a skilful and talented embryo criminal lawyer – but as one of the most delightful people one could meet.

“We remained close friends for the next 40 years during which time I never heard him speak an ill word of anyone. I was always touched to receive the occasional phone call from him seeking my thoughts and advice on his legal and judicial career. Whilst others will rightly praise his undoubted success as a lawyer, it is as the most loved of men that many, including myself, will remember him.”

Scott Ingram, Slater & Gordon: “Rod Fletcher, a senior lawyer at Herbert Smith Freehills, died on 6.11.19. A much loved friend and respected lawyer he will be sorely missed.

“Always at the top of the legal rankings, Rod combined drive, ambition and leadership with modesty, generosity and humility, a hugely personable and much loved colleague. Rod is survived by his wife Linda and step sons Jonathan and Kelvin.”