Solicitor told to pay £500 to man he punched in Royal Opera House front row spat

A solicitor has been ordered to pay £500 in compensation to a fashion designer he punched during an argument over a front row seat at an opera.

Matthew Feargrieve, 43, was found guilty in December of assaulting Ulrich Engler at least once while attending a performance of Wagner at the Royal Opera House on October 7, 2018.

The investment funds lawyer lashed out against Mr Engler with “a constant flow of blows” after the designer climbed into an empty seat next to Feargrieve’s partner Catherine Chandler and moved her coat.

Sentencing Feargrieve at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, District Judge John Zani said the defendant used “excessive force” during the attack.

He said: “You really should not have behaved in the way you did. In my view you lost your temper.

“It was excessive. It should not have happened. You are an experienced, professional man and you should know how to behave.”

Ulrich Engler at City of London Magistrates’ Court last month (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Ulrich Engler at City of London Magistrates’ Court last month (David Mirzoeff/PA)

Feargrieve, of Lonsdale Road, Barnes, south-west London, was fined £900, ordered to pay £775 in costs, £500 in compensation and a £90 victim surcharge.

Mr Engler told City of London Magistrates’ Court at a previous hearing that he had moved into an empty chair in row A from his seat in row B at the London venue three days earlier, and did so again on October 7.

Mr Engler, whose clients include the Countess of Derby, said he asked Ms Chandler if he could sit in the vacant seat next to her and if she had purchased it.

When she said no to both questions, he moved into the seat, moving Ms Chandler’s coat and putting it on her lap.

Feargrieve then “lashed out” and punched Mr Engler at least once, the court heard.

Mr Engler, who was given a ban by the opera house which was later rescinded, told the court he was attacked at least 10 minutes into the performance and left with injuries to his left side.

He claimed he was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and said the assault had affected his creative abilities as a designer.

But Lisa Wilding QC, defending Feargrieve, argued on Wednesday there was a lack of evidence to show the PTSD was caused by the assault.

She said Feargrieve was a man of “exemplary good character” and had lost work as a result of the incident, with an investment bank ending its contract with him prematurely following the press coverage.

“The coverage of these proceedings has been devastating and remains so,” she said.

“Thus it is that since March of last year, he has not been in employment.”

“This defendant very much regrets that an incident arose as a result of him seeking to defend his partner.”

Giving evidence at a previous hearing, Feargrieve said he only pushed Mr Engler and did so in self-defence after he attacked Ms Chandler, his partner of 13 years.

Matthew Feargrieve had "suffered emotionally and financially" because of his conviction, the judge said (Nick Ansell/PA)
Matthew Feargrieve had "suffered emotionally and financially" because of his conviction, the judge said (Nick Ansell/PA)

But Judge Zani did not accept Feargrieve’s argument of self-defence and after a one-day trial, the lawyer was found guilty of common assault.

Reading Mr Engler’s victim impact statement, prosecutor Jennifer Fadaka said: “I had numerous blows to my upper body, causing bruising to my ribs.

“I had a period of difficulty interacting with people as I was deeply embarrassed and hurt by the attack.

“It had a major impact to my creative attitude as I was so down and missed a fashion season.”

Sentencing, Judge Zani said he was unable to “directly link” Mr Engler’s PTSD to the assault.

He said: “It is clear in my view that the complainant did suffer pain and discomfort to his shoulder and ribs.

“Thankfully those injuries seem to have relaxed after a relatively short time.

Judge Zani said there appeared to be “little genuine remorse” from Feargrieve about what happened.

He said: “You have lost your good character and you have suffered emotionally and financially considerably because of this, which has been hanging over you for a long time.”