Magazine article The Spectator

High-Class Fraud

Magazine article The Spectator

High-Class Fraud

Article excerpt

Fortune's Spear

by Martin Vander Weyer

Elliott & Thompson, £18.99, pp. 352,

ISBN 978189907642319

You can always find a thief in financial markets. That is where the money is. Most frauds are quite dull affairs, and some are never uncovered. A few, however, are spectacular.

The scale of loss, or the glamour of the perpetrator, or the failure of the 'system' to spot and prevent the crookery, may contribute to make a good story. One case, almost within living memory, which has all of these elements, was that of Gerard Lee Bevan.

He was born in 1869 into a highly respected City banking family. The Bevans were among the founders of Barclays and continued to be involved in the management of the bank until recently.

However, Gerard Bevan did not make the grade for the bank. Perhaps something about his personality, even then, raised doubts about whether he had the right qualities, although he had been at Eton and Cambridge and acquitted himself successfully.

And he had magnetic charm. So he became a stockbroker. He joined Ellis & Co, an old firm of high repute. He was soon hugely successful and well respected until he crashed in the 1920s. Martin Vander Weyer tells us the story of his rise to riches and his fall from grace. He explains it all in a way which nonexperts can understand and enjoy. It is an enthralling story well told.

Bevan's career must be classed as a tragedy. It started full of promise. His family was rich and well established in society. He married Sophie Kenrick who also came from a rich family, Midlands industrialists related to the Chamberlains. The author paints a vivid picture of titled upper-middle-class wealth nudging towards the aristocracy.

Bevan did well for the firm's clients. He and Sophie bought a house in Upper Grosvenor Street and had it altered for entertaining. It also housed Gerard's growing collection of Chinese porcelain, for which he had an excellent eye.

It all looked set fair. But then he took a wrong turning. At first it may have just been women: he was a serial adulterer, treating glamorous mistresses ostentatiously. And then he began arranging artificial support for the shares he had put his clients into. …

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