No More Theory. Just The Outcome

Some years ago I was summoned to be a witness for the prosecution. The details of the case are not important, just that it involved money.

Come the day and I sat in a small room with a solicitor, accountant and a neighbour of the victim, a blind old lady. So, three professional people and a gentleman who was long since retired from his job in a local factory.

We waited to be called. It was a hot day and the room had no air conditioning. We waited on.

Eventually, a good looking, confident barrister, a male of I’d say around forty years old, burst into the room, disturbing our inactivity. He announced with a certain swagger that he had fixed everything and we would no longer be required. He went on to explain that an out of court settlement had been reached, the money repaid (by the defendant’s mother), and no more time would need to be wasted.

The solicitor, accountant and I all stood, a little stiffly. We gathered our things and prepared to return to our offices.

Only the neighbour stayed seated. He looked up at the four of us, one at a time, then back round again. Eventually he spoke.

“And that’s it, is it?” he said. “That’s it? He just walks away, does he? Oh well done. Yeah, great. Well done.” He shook his head, stood, and left the room, leaving the rest of us looking rather sheepishly at each other.

Sometimes theory doesn’t matter. Sometimes the truth is found only in the result.

I am no legal expert. I don’t know the ins and outs of the BHS and Philip Green situation. All I know is that Mr Green’s family took over £400m in dividends from BHS, sold it for a pound soon after, and there is now a £571m gap in the pension fund. Some have argued that he has done nothing wrong. In theory, indeed in the eyes of the law, I have no doubt that was the case. But what about the outcome? What about those pensioners?

I read with great interest Phil Young’s recent article about the FOS decision on Mr F. Phil is a lawyer, and he makes a lawyer’s assessment of the situation so that we can learn from it. What is the ‘truth’ of the case? Someone who has lost money on something they should have been advised against (and that seems to be the FOS view as well).

That’s not to say that people don’t have the right to make high risk investments in Spanish golf courses. But if the adviser is not confident that the client is making a wise decision, they should tell them so, and back up words by action, by not getting involved. To take the fees/commission while advising against doing something is disingenuous.

This is the lesson I learned from that neighbour. Sometimes doing the right thing costs money, or results in a loss of income. Sometimes regulation or the law can be manipulated to justify actions. But there are also times when it is only the outcome that matters.