For millennials in investment banking (defined as those who reached adulthood after 2000, and who therefore joined the industry no earlier than 2004), the trial of British hedge fund celebrity Crispin Odey is likely to be a curious time capsule. It’s sort of a period drama of the days when double-breasted suits were only just out of fashion, and when executives said things like “you will be fired … nothing will come of this” to female employees making allegations of sexual harassment. For older bankers who remember those days first hand, it might be a somewhat more uncomfortable entertainment, perhaps stirring up memories of events best forgotten: a reminder that the past is by no means necessarily dead and buried.
From the opening statements, it appears that some facts are agreed. A young female banker went to a meeting with Odey at his office, accompanied by one of her senior colleagues. Odey suggested that she come back later for a drink, which turned into an invitation to his home. After reappearing in a robe, he made a pass at her, which was unwelcome – she later described him as “older than my dad, thinning old hair, kind of a red face and paunchy”, quite woundingly (he didn’t look that bad). And then either a “moving grope” happened or it didn’t.
Whatever the jury finds to have happened, it’s obvious that this was an evening drinks meeting that should never have taken place. Even on Mr Odey’s assessment (according to the prosecutor’s version of what he said to police), it was “stupid for him to have made the offer” and “stupid for her to have gone to his house”. It’s hard not to ask what on earth the “senior colleague” thought he was playing at, allowing this to happen to his junior and even allegedly letting her think it would be “good for her career”.
Of course, all these things happened in the bygone age of 1998, in which it was generally assumed that junior women’s complaints about senior men could be laughed off. The trouble is that times change, and people don’t necessarily forget. Fifteen years after the event, in 2013, the woman decided that she actually didn’t want to let it go, and sent an email describing the event in detail to Mr Odey; he replied that “I’m truly sorry if you felt uncomfortable”, but “this does not turn me into a sleazy old man”, denying the allegations. Four years after that, as the Harvey Weinstein revelations and #MeToo movement hit the news, she decided that this wasn’t good enough and called the police.
Now there’s a criminal prosecution. That ought to scare quite a few bankers. It’s difficult to establish beyond reasonable doubt what happened so many years after the fact. But it’s not difficult to bring events into the public eye which reflect incredibly badly on people’s character and judgement. And a lot of this sort of thing went on, twenty five years ago. There’s a form of poetic justice in knowing that some senior men in the industry who really deserve a bit of unhappiness will see out the last five to ten years of their careers knowing that they’re sitting under one or more swords of Damocles.
Daniel Davies – Read more on efinancialcareers.com