Royal Opera row: hedge fund lawyer guilty of assault after punching fashion designer in dispute over spare seat

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By Thomas Connelly on

Attack occurred during performance of Wagner

? Royal Opera House (credit: Simdaperce)

An opera-loving lawyer has been convicted of assault after attacking a fashion designer during a dispute over a vacant seat at a performance of Wagner.

Matthew Feargrieve, an investment funds lawyer, was found guilty of punching Ulrich Engler at least once at the the Royal Opera House in central London in October of last year.

City of London Magistrates’ Court heard how the incident kicked off when Engler, whose clients include the Countess of Wessex and Princess Alexandra, moved from his seat in row B to an empty seat in row A shortly before the third performance of the Ring Cycle by Wagner started.

Engler told the court that he had asked Feargrieve’s partner Catherine Chandler whether it was okay if he could sit in the vacant seat next to her. When she replied she did mind, he asked her if she had paid for the seat, to which she responded no, Engler claimed. He then picked up her coat and placed it on her lap before sitting in the seat.

? Matthew Feargrieve

The fashion designer explained this was when Feargrieve, a former partner at London law firm Withers, assaulted him. “By then the conductor was up and the music started and I received blows to my left shoulder,” he told the court. “I had never seen someone looking with so much anger and terror at me.”

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Charles Shelton, for the prosecution, said: “We say Mr Feargrieve had seen Mr Engler climbing over the seat before that night and took some offence. He thought it was poor form and he was annoyed at Mr Engler for that kind of action.”

Feargrieve argued it was, in fact, Engler who had started the fracas. The lawyer claimed the fashion designer had thrown his partner’s coat on the floor and pushed her as she bent down to pick it up. Chandler claimed the push caused her to fall onto Feargrieve, leaving him in “agonising” pain and with a dislocated shoulder.

Siding with Engler’s version of events, district judge John Zani said: “I was not in the Royal Opera House on the day in question so I have to decide from the evidence I have heard and read… Your evidence has been consistently that maybe fingertips touched. I accept the evidence of the prosecution witnesses where they say you punched Mr Engler at least once maybe twice or three times. I am entirely satisfied that you are guilty.”

Feargrieve will be sentenced next month.

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