A millionaire hedge fund lawyer who punched a fashion designer in the stalls of the Royal Opera House for moving his wife’s coat is out of work and living off his savings, a court heard.
Matthew Feargrieve, 43, hit Ulrich Engler on the shoulder during a performance of Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle.
The row began as the curtains rose when Mr Engler moved from his position in row B to an empty seat in row A, Westminster Magistrates heard.
Mr Engler moved a coat belonging to Feargrieve’s partner, Catherine Chandler, from an empty seat and it ended up on the floor.
Describing the incident on 7 October 2018, Charles Shelton, prosecuting, said: ‘He thought it was poor form and he was annoyed at Mr Engler for that kind of action.
‘On the night in question he climbed over the seat and removed the coat belonging to Ms Chandler and they objected to that.
‘Mr Feargrieve says he was defending his partner,’ added Mr Shelton.
‘Even if Mr Feargrieve had a belief he had to attempt to defend her he went over the top.’
Feargrieve insisted he was ‘not a yob in a football stand’ but he was later convicted of common assault despite claiming he was trying to protect his partner.
Lisa Wilding, defending, said Feargrieve had acted to defend his partner.
‘Although the defendant maintains that the assault did not take place as alleged, he respects the verdict of the court,’ she said.
‘It was clear evidence of the independent witness that having moved into the vacant seat which upset Ms Chandler there was a tussle between Mr Engler and Ms Chandler and he appeared to hit her, sort of was rough with her and it was her impression that the man was probably defending his wife.
‘It was momentary and you must also have thought to whether there was one punch or more than one punch.
‘A Japanese witness agreed there may only have been one punch.
‘This defendant very much regrets that an incident which arose form him seeking to defend his partner and he himself sustained an injury to his shoulder and his partner sustained an injury to her shoulder has brought him before this court.
‘You know his personal circumstances and you know he was in a long-term relationship with Ms Chandler.
‘You know he has driving matters in Switzerland but aside from that you should treat him as a man of good character who has reached the age of 42 without an incident like this occurring.
‘He has been a professionally employed person providing legal services in house to an investment bank working on a self-employed contractual basis.
‘He was released early from that contract as a result. The impact of the coverage of these proceedings has been devastating.
‘For a man involved in the provision of legal services as he was he wider ripples that flow from these proceedings has been devastating.
‘Since March last year he has not been in employment.’
The fashion designer said the attack left him ‘deeply embarrassed’ and affected his reputation in the industry.
Mr Engler said: ‘The pain lasted six weeks causing me sleep issues.
‘I received numerous sessions of counselling. My attitude to strangers is fearful, I am not an easy-going person.
‘This has totally changed my previous positive happy behaviour. I had a period of difficulty interacting with people as I was deeply embarrassed.
‘I was so down during fashion season and struggled to maintain my previous position and good name in the business.’
District Judge John Zani said the Oxford educated lawyer ‘lost his temper’ and should know to behave better in future.
The judge told Feargrieve: ‘You are in effect living off your savings and your partner is responsible for most of the household expenses.
‘It is clear the complainant did suffer pain to his shoulder and ribs. He was sent for an X-ray.
‘How many punches did you use? There are different witnesses telling me different things the complainant who I found to be a credible witness said it was a number.
‘[One witness] saw several and said she saw you use both your fists.’
He said witness Elaine McMaster ‘covered her eyes and could not believe this was happening in the Royal Opera House.
‘There is little genuine remorse from you about what happened.
‘Your pre-sentence report said you were aware that the situation should not have escalated in the way it did.
‘There’s an assertion of your innocence.
‘There’s a suggestion that some of the witnesses may have been tainted with you trying to influence the witnesses. I don’t accept that at all. [They gave] very impressive evidence.
‘You really should not have behaved in the way you did in my view you lost your temper you decided you were not going to sit idly by and assaulted him in circumstances which you should have not.
‘You’re an experienced professional man. You know how to behave. You know not to behave like that in the future.
‘For this matter you’ll pay a fine of £900, costs of £775 and £500 in compensation.’
Mr Engler told the court that he had sat on the empty seat next to Feargrieve and his partner in a previous Ring performance three days earlier.
‘I did exactly the same and the couple didn’t object to it.
‘I saw the coat on the empty seat so I asked the woman if she wouldn’t mind if I sat next to her like I did three days before,’ said Mr Engler.
‘She said yes, she would mind, and then I cordially asked her if she had paid for the empty seat, which she said she had not.’
Mr Engler said that he proceeded to climb over the empty seat and move the coat into Ms Chandler’s lap.
Due to the positioning of the stalls, Mr Engler was sat with his back to the couple, when he heard Ms Chandler say her coat was on the floor, the court heard.
‘The coat must have fallen on the floor, which I couldn’t actually witness.
‘I did say to her without turning around ‘I am sorry’,’ added Mr Engler, whose clients include the Countess of Derby.
‘By then the conductor was on, the music started.
‘I received blows on my on my left shoulder.
‘I only then turned around in horror and saw Mr Feargrieve standing up and assaulting me.’
Mr Shelton asked: ‘How hard were these blows?’
Mr Engler replied: ‘Very hard. ‘I had never seen anyone looking with so much anger and horror at me.’
Wagner’s Ring Cycle takes place over four separate operas which between them take more than 12 hours to perform.
Last year the Royal Opera House put on the entire Cycle, produced by Keith Warner, with performances of the consecutive operas on almost-consecutive nights to allow patrons to enjoy the entire work.
Feargrieve is the founder of MF Consultancy, an independent legal consultancy providing advice to fund managers and their service providers.
According to the Directors Chambers website he is a ‘corporate and investment funds lawyer of more than 16 years’ standing, during which time he has been a partner in some of the world’s leading law firms.
He practices UK, Cayman Islands, and British Virgin Islands law.’
Feargrieve, of Barnes, southwest London, denied but was convicted of assault by beating.
He was ordered to pay a fine of £900, costs of £775 and £500 in compensation.