Blackstone was given a token £1,000 fine plus £16,000 costs after a jury found him guilty of using his inside knowledge as a PR man to buy shares in a client, Murray Financial, which was mulling a takeover bid. He also had to hand back the £3,000 profit he made on the shares. At 56, the financial penalty is minor next to the cost to his reputation.
Blackstone was undoubtedly foolish and the courts had no choice but to make an example of him. But you have to feel sorry for him. He only moved into financial PR relatively recently, and was, for years, a respected City reporter.
It was his bad luck to have a famous sister – Baroness Blackstone, the arts minister – and, years ago, to have starred in a handful of porn films.
The tabloids had a field day reminding us of his alter ego, Dick Bangwell, and of films like I am not feeling myself tonight. How much punishment does a man have to take?
The Stock Exchange routinely picks up on dozens of dodgy shares trades, but hardly any lead to the courts. A lawyer once put it to me that insider dealing is almost impossible to prove, short of a signed confession. Clearly in Blackstone’s case, the evidence was strong enough to persuade the jury.
It has been suggested that the UK should follow America and make insider dealing a civil offence. This would allow scope for ‘cutting a deal’ as with Ivan Boesky in the Eighties. It was Boesky who alerted UK authorities to the share dealings behind the Guinness Affair.
Plea bargains may not be such a bad thing.
- Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.