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Barrister banned for 12 months after punching fashion designer at Royal Opera House

Matthew Feargrieve
Matthew Feargrieve struck Mr Engler after he sat in an unoccupied seat next to his partner Catherine Chandler during a performance - Julian Simmonds

A barrister has been banned for 12 months after punching a fashion designer during a performance of Wagner at the Royal Opera House.

Matthew Feargrieve was suspended by a disciplinary tribunal on Wednesday after being accused of professional misconduct.

The Bar Standards Board (BSB) accused Mr Feargrieve of breaching his core duty by behaving in a way that was likely to diminish the trust and confidence the public places in the profession.

The disciplinary tribunal on Wednesday ruled that the BSB cannot issue him a certificate for a 12-month period, effective immediately.

The ruling comes after Mr Feargrieve was found guilty of assaulting Ulrich Engler during a performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Royal Opera House in 2018.

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The investment funds lawyer struck Mr Engler after he sat in an unoccupied seat next to his partner Catherine Chandler during Siegfried, the first section of Wagner’s four-part epic.

Designer moved to empty seat

Mr Engler, a German designer who previously styled the Countess of Wessex and Princess Alexandra, moved from his seat in row B to an empty seat in row A with a better view.

The Royal Opera House’s best front row seats in the stalls circle for the performance typically cost £1,200 while seats in Row B, where Mr Engler had been sitting, cost £356, according to a previous report by The Times.

Mr Engler, who specialises in couture and wedding dresses, asked Ms Chandler if she had bought the spare seat and whether he could move into it.

After she replied “no” to both questions, Mr Engler switched seats and moved her coat on to her lap.

Mr Engler said he then felt “a constant flow of blows”, according to a report by The Times in 2019, adding that he had “never seen someone looking with so much terror and anger at me”.

Fashion designer Ulrich Engler
Fashion designer Ulrich Engler was attacked after moving from his seat in row B to an empty seat in row A with a better view - Julian Simmonds

Mr Engler was left with injuries to his left side and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder following the attack.

Mr Feargrieve was criminally convicted of assault by beating in December 2019 and was sentenced in 2020. Judge John Zani at the time found that Mr Feargrieve used “excessive force”.

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

The Oxford University-educated lawyer was ordered to pay more than £2,200 in fines, costs and compensation.

Mr Feargrieve, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, subsequently lodged an appeal to the Crown Court but ultimately withdrew the action.

Mr Feargrieve, who is also a solicitor, was rebuked by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2021. It said the criminal conviction undermined the public’s trust and confidence in the solicitors’ profession.

The solicitor watchdog ordered him to pay its £300 investigation costs.

Attacker was unregistered barrister

Mr Feargrieve was already an unregistered barrister, meaning he did not hold a licensing certificate to practise in England and Wales.

He was called to the Bar in 1996 but did not complete a pupillage, the final stage of training before becoming a barrister, according to the BSB.

Mr Feargrieve, who has spent the past decade working as a self-employed consultant to investment funds, did not attend the hearing. He has two weeks to respond to the BSB’s requests to pay £1,560 in costs.

A BSB spokesman said: “Barristers have an obligation not to behave in a way which is likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in them or in the profession, even when not practising.

“The tribunal’s decision shows that Mr Feargrieve’s actions leading to his conviction were a clear breach of that duty and the sanction reflects the seriousness of this.”