London Games, The Beginning…
The dark wood-panelled courtroom was quiet and serene. After weeks of intense argument and dramatic revelations the moment of denouement was just minutes away. For now, for just a moment more, James Macpherson, the court usher, enjoyed the peace, the heavily pregnant peace that was about to give way to even greater drama as the jury returned to deliver its verdict.
A side door clicked open and Sam, the jury usher, gave James a quick nod before turning back to attend to his charges. James drew a last deep breath of serenity and turned to his duties: recalling the lawyers, the defendant and the public. As soon as he opened the main court doors there was a rush of fresh and expectant air and a growing hubub as the throng returned to its seats.
The elegant figure of Sir Damian Fremantle moved reluctantly away from the reassuring cluster of silk surrounding him and climbed the few steps back into the dock. Perhaps there was just the slightest humility showing now, a little uncertainty perhaps, possibly even fear…but no, it was a fleeting moment. The chin went up, the lofty nose was looked down and the supreme arrogance of Britain’s wealthiest banker was restored. It was as if he were waiting for the Judge to return and offer an apology for the great inconvenience that Sir Damian had suffered over the last five weeks.
“Rat-a-tat-tat!” The loudest, most peremptory sound allowed in the Court was the warning of the Judge’s entry. “All rise!” came next and as defendant, lawyers, jury and public rose to their feet, Mr Justice Weatherspoon assumed his seat, all sat, a few routine nods were exchanged and James rose to perform his final duty.
“Guilty”. The verdict resounded around the Court. Sir Damian looked disbelieving, outraged as his legal team slumped in their chairs, the youngest, female junior, her head in her hands, realising those flirtatious promises her client had made really would now come to nothing.
Sir Damian appeared to rally, a touch of cockiness returning to his posture but then slowly he slumped, his shoulders dropped, his world seemed to spin and he fell insensible to the floor. Now the collective gasp that had been building since the jury foreman spoke reached a crescendo. There were muted cheers. The doors slammed as journalists left, mobiles already at their ears. There was a general sense of relief and excitement as the Judge banged his gavel just once and said “Sentencing will take place in the morning. I need no reports. Bail is denied”.
Within seconds the Court was empty. Outside the “Bash The Bankers” demo had become a party. There was literally dancing in the streets. Pandemonium erupted. Strangers embraced each other. London had seen nothing like it since VE day when the last great threat to civilisation was finally defeated.
This was the final chapter in bringing to heel the avarice that had been allowed to run wild in the City. A year ago the first chill winds of reality had swept through boardrooms when Sir Jim Malouse had been extradited from Scotland to the US. Within a few weeks he had to stand in a tiny Alabama courtroom in a prison boiler suit, manacled at hands and feet, to hear his sentence described as 160 years without possibility of parole. Of course the appeals were in hand but meanwhile Sir Jim languished in a maximum security state prison, his massive lifetime pension of no comfort at all. His only friends the cockroaches that crawled in from the stinking mangrove swamp on which the prison was built.
A few senior civil servants had followed both in Europe and US but then the politicians had started to fall. Any British MP who had had any connection with the City, the Treasury or the financial system was ruined. From former Chancellors to junior ministers of state, more than 20 MPs, 12 senators and fifteen congressmen were convicted on criminal charges ranging from false accounting and conspiracy to straightforward theft. Ultimately Silvio Berlusconi was at last kicked out of office, not with his trousers round his ankles but with his secret dividend income statements from a raft of European banks.
Now with the conviction of Sir Damian, the night of the long knives was fast approaching dawn. In Britainthe destruction of the old financial system had created a massive new industry. Out of the very disaster itself had come the creation of thousands of new jobs in local financial councils, co-operative banks and the Regulator, the nationwide authority, part of the International Finance Treaty of 2011. A new optimism was in force throughout the country. People were back in work. A new culture of transparency and fairness had swept aside the old institutions.
Fremantle’s world was in ruins. As the unthinkable reality pulsed through his body he regained some sort of consciousness and found himself in a cold, slightly damp cell, a massive steel door being the only feature of note.
Before the horror of imprisonment could overwhelm him the door opened and there stood Bart James, his QC, despondency written all over him, his juniors almost hiding behind him.
“I’m so sorry Damian. We’ll start working on the appeal immediately. Believe me, whatever tomorrow brings you can count on us putting together the best possible arguments”
Fremantle looked directly at James, his face bemused, dull, incomprehending. Then, without the slightest acknowledgement, he turned away and lay down on the concrete shelf that served for a bed, his face to the wall.