Inside the Mind of Crispin Odey
A financial reporter and the famous hedge-fund manager explore the trial of his life.
Crispin Odey is trying to decide how history will remember him.
“The answer is, I have been my own man,” he says down the phone from Odey Asset Management in April, the third time he speaks to Institutional Investor for this feature and a couple of weeks after his acquittal on charges of indecent assault.
But history might not be so kind to him.
Over 30 years, Odey has crafted a reputation as the City of London’s most outspoken hedge-fund manager. The press has dubbed him the industry’s “doom-monger”: an aristocratic financier with no qualms about profiting from crises — then boasting about it afterward.
His was among the first wave of hedge funds to break out in the 1990s. He quit his job at Barings International to set up Odey Asset Management in 1991, launching a European long-short fund with money from George Soros and Global Asset Management, now GAM, backed by the Rothschilds. It took him three bear markets to find his stride: The first, in 1994, wiped 44 percent off one of his funds and lost him 95 percent of his clients. He survived the dot-com rally of the late ’90s, underperforming the MSCI World Index in 1999 but posting a 19 percent gain in 2000, when the bubble burst and MSCI World lost 7 percent. The third, he was ready to “take by the scruff of the neck and enjoy it.” In 2008, as the City smoldered in the aftermath of the crash, Odey pocketed £28 million ($38.7 million), while the bank he was shorting was in such a state it had to be nationalized. Then, during Brexit, he made £220 million by betting the market would collapse on the event of a leave vote. When it did, the morning after the referendum in 2016, Odey told the BBC: “You might have been up all night, but, you know, I’m feeling fresh as a daisy. There’s that Italian expression, Il mattino ha l’oro in bocca — ‘the morning has gold in its mouth’ — and never has one felt so much that idea as this morning.”
Even among the traditionally tight-lipped world of hedge funds, his name carries particular weight. None of the people I contacted for this story would talk about him, even as the press noted that his star was waning. In February, Bloomberg calculated that his fund would need to make a return of 203 percent just to recover losses incurred since 2015. (“That’s crap,” Odey said when I put this to him.) Outside of the City, his persona has not always endeared him to the public. There was thus a large amount of press interest when, in September, he was charged with indecently assaulting a junior employee from an investment bank at his house in the summer of 1998. At home, the court heard, Odey ordered Chinese takeout, then showered and put on a robe before assaulting the investment banker in his kitchen, allegedly pushing his hand up her skirt and inside her blouse to grab her breast.
In March, Odey was acquitted of the charge by a judge who left reporters and onlookers open-mouthed by claiming Odey’s accuser had a “vivid imagination” and that he found troubling her “obvious preoccupation with the press, with [Odey’s] money, and her apparent desire for publicity of her complaint.” She has since written to the courts to complain about the judge’s “unwarranted attack” on her character, believing it could silence other victims.
But days after his acquittal, a bombshell hit: Three other incidents of inappropriate behavior were reported in the press, one of which — published at length in The Sunday Times — is now the subject of a legal complaint by Odey.
Odey’s representatives have “emphatically denied” the allegations, according to these reports. When I asked about them, Odey said, “Did they happen? I don’t care! They might have.” When the judge acquitted him for the original allegation in March, he said Odey was a man with no previous convictions who would leave court with his “good character intact.” Weeks later, his reputation is in tatters. Before the verdict, seven of his firm’s funds changed their name from Odey to Brook. In multiple phone conversations with Institutional Investor, Odey spoke of “great consequences” attached to the case.
“I’ve always thought the real fight is the fight between the historian and the mathematician,” he says. “In a world in which the central banks are setting the pace, the mathematician wins, and in the world in which actually they are overwhelmed, then the historian starts to come into things. And that’s just where we are now.”
“You’re a man of history,” I say.
“I’m a bit of a man of history,” he says. “I say: court of history, not of law.”
This is the story of what happened when the U.K.’s most outspoken hedge-fund manager got his day in the court of law.
Inside, there was a scramble to get into the courtroom. Reporters from several daily newspapers plus the newswires were there, with lockdown hair and tattered, spiral-bound notebooks. Space in the public gallery was limited. There were just two short rows of chairs in the glass-encased space and all but six had been taped up to enforce social distancing. A security guard, bemused at all the fuss, held back the reporters, prompting howls of protest. A wire reporter called Henry, clutching a press card in his fist, asked to make a submission to the judge, pleading that it was vital that at least one member of the press attend. He was admitted just a minute before a trainee solicitor from one of the two firms representing Odey, BCL Solicitors, and they clashed at the door. “Surely a solicitor goes in before the press,” the young man said, but he was pushed back.
The rest of the reporters colonized the banks of chairs outside the courtroom and shared details of how to log in to government Wi-Fi and the court video service, a kind of Zoom for criminal proceedings, which quickly transpired to be a set of poorly operating microphones and laptop cameras with shonky signals.
During the kerfuffle, Odey slipped into a consultation room with lawyers from both firms — BCL and QEB Hollis Whiteman. From the former: Ellen Peart, a matronly woman with a white streak of hair and a fondness for padded headbands, with an assistant. Peart specializes in representing individuals facing sexual assault and other serious charges. From the latter, Crispin Aylett, a short, older man with disorderly hair, who swallowed some pills before the proceedings started. He once succeeded in getting an acquittal for a U.K. broadcaster standing trial for 16 counts of rape. Among the others was Odey’s wife, Nichola Pease, a woman with a lion-sized reputation in the world of finance. Pease comes from one of the Quaker families that founded Barclays Bank. She went on to become director of Britain’s largest independent stockbroker, Smith New Court, when it accepted a takeover bid from Merrill Lynch in 1995. She brought with her a family friend, John Mumford, the founder of an Evangelical Christian church in the U.K. and father of the frontman of the band Mumford & Sons. Six of them squeezed into the small consultation room where they could be heard laughing and joking through the doors.
When it was time for the trial to start, this supporting cast went in first, past the little crowd trying their best to socially distance in the corridors. Aylett took his place in front of the judge, while the others took up each of the chairs in the public gallery. One single reporter sat by the doors.
Finally, Odey appeared: his huge, slightly humpbacked form emerging from the consultation room to traverse the carpeted corridor in a dark suit and spectacles, mask concealing his face. In his hand he carried a tattered brown fabric bag of the sort you might use to transport the groceries while on holiday in the south of France. He sat behind a glass screen, opposite the witness box and a single TV on which he watched the cross-examination of the woman by whom he was accused.
In court, the prosecuting lawyer, Kerry Broome, set out the case. Broome said the woman was now a successful businesswoman, but in 1998, she was a junior on a sales desk, invited to a business meeting with Odey, then one of her firm’s most important clients.
The courtroom then watched the video of her deposition, which was several hours long. It was made in January 2018, almost 20 years after the incident. The complainant appears in a police consultation room with a police officer, a woman, who urges her to “just crack on in, you know, use whichever language; don’t worry about swearing and stuff like that.” This is detective constable Linda Casson. She will appear as a witness in the case. At that moment, Casson later says, she was trying to help the woman feel comfortable. So the woman speaks freely, trying her best to describe the events of the evening. She is frequently emotional. She will later contradict herself on several points in court — a common problem in sexual assault cases, understood to be the result of stress hormones created during trauma increasing the chances of dissociation and memory fragmentation.
District Judge Rimmer did not acknowledge this when he acquitted Odey on March 11, instead commenting on a “catalogue of inconsistencies” in the case, including the time of year the incident took place, the time of day, the respective ages of Odey and the complainant, the words spoken between them, which rooms of Odey’s London house they sat in, what kind of engagement occurred, how long the complainant spent outside after the incident, whether it was light or dark, raining or dry, and finally what she said — her “complaints,” as he put it — to others.
Here is what everyone agrees on: At some point in 1998, the complainant met Odey at his offices with a colleague for a business meeting. Odey was 39 and had been married to Pease for seven years. She was pregnant with their third child and splitting her time between their house in Swan Walk, London, and a country pile in Gloucestershire.
On the day in question, the complainant attended the meeting at Odey’s office — she says to talk about airline stocks, although Odey doesn’t remember the subject of the meeting. “It was summer,” she says in the video.
“Explain to me the sequence of events leading up to . . .” Casson says. The woman crumples and starts to cry. Then she gets some tissues and pulls herself together.
“I was young then, and the young people got to go to the senior people’s meetings if they couldn’t go, because it’s good exposure.” At some point — accounts vary about whether it was that day or the next morning on the phone — Odey invited the woman to meet again. Her boss encouraged her to go. Somehow, the woman ended up at Odey’s house. Odey says he called her up the next day and gave her his address and she came around the next evening of her own accord. She says she went to his office to wait for him after work and they headed to a pub, which was full, so he hailed a cab and took her back to his home — even though she insisted it would be fine to reschedule; even though the alarm bells were ringing.
In her video deposition, the woman says she remembers going into Odey’s house in Swan Walk, not far from the banks of the Thames, and feeling, instantly, that it was empty. She was surprised by this — she knew he was married. They went into the kitchen, she says, and then Odey left to order dinner for them — Chinese takeout — and to change out of his suit. “I was just sitting there,” she tells the police officer. “It was awkward because you’re sitting in someone’s house that you don’t really know and it’s all kind of quiet.”
Then her mind started turning, she says, doing this “weird, circular thing” that will be instantly familiar to many women who have found themselves alone with a male superior. She thought about making a run for it, she says, but then she thought that would be rude. This was her boss’s client. So she just sat there. When Odey came back, he was wearing a housecoat, she says, “more like a dressing gown than a jacket,” and he had had a shower. Odey denies showering or changing.
“And that’s when I thought, ‘Oh, shit.’” she says. “But I didn’t really think he would do anything. I know that sounds stupid.”
Then he sat down, “and that’s when he kind of tried to get all on top of me,” she says in the video. “I was stuck in this booth, so it wasn’t like I could just stand up. So there was this very awkward — me trying to get out and him just sort of all over me.” These are the details that will appear in the press during the trial: He groped her “in an Octopussy-type manouvre,” putting his hand down her shirt to touch her breast and reaching up her skirt. That he put his hand on her back. Then there was a “scramble of hands,” a “groping event.” This is the indecent assault — the physical contact — of which he will soon be acquitted. Odey’s lawyer, Aylett, will later seize on the fact that the woman gives different accounts of the sequence of events each time she tells the story: “Is it the case this didn’t happen at all and that’s why you can’t remember the choreography?”
In the video, recorded three years before the trial, she explains that she managed to get up. She doesn’t remember what she said — just that she made it clear that “this wasn’t happening.” And then she says she remembers thinking, “How am I even going to get out of this house?”
“He’s a big guy,” she says. “And there is just a moment of: What is going to happen?”
This is the moment that will stay with her. When time stretches out into all the many possibilities. When she doesn’t know if he will follow her to the door. When he doesn’t, but then she can’t open the door. “And I remember thinking, ‘Is he going . . . what’s he going . . . is he going to come after me now? Is this it?’”
And then she was outside, she says, in a part of London she didn’t recognize, without a cellphone, because this was 1998. She waited and waited until a taxi came. The driver asked if she was Pease. “And he’d obviously ordered me a taxi,” she says. “It was just the most sickening feeling. But I took the taxi, because I couldn’t get home.”
She went to the house of a friend, she says, who urged her to go to the police. She was so distraught, the friend says in court, that it made him think “something not very nice had happened,” although she refused to tell him what. Instead, the next morning at work, she asked to speak to three senior people on her desk — three men who will later appear in court. In the video, she says she told them what happened, “the whole thing, really,” and asked what she should do. The three men say they don’t remember the meeting — or don’t remember hearing anything so serious that it demanded their attention. But she says, “They told me — I’m summarizing — ‘Don’t do anything. You’ll be fired. You’ll be restructured. You’ll never, ever win this; nothing good will come of it.’”
It’s the day before the trial, and I have called Odey to find out how he is feeling about it. He first called me two weeks earlier, moments after I sent the first of many emails to his former business associates and colleagues to ask them, who is the man behind the headlines? And is he capable of the thing of which he is accused? Then the phone rings.
“Hazel, Crispin Odey here.”
“Crispin!” I say, wondering which of my emails has been instantly forwarded to him. (When I ask him several weeks later, he unceremoniously tells me to fuck off.) “Hello.”
“You wanted to talk to me?”
Rather than talk to him off the cuff, I promise to call him back. Two weeks later, when I do, he answers immediately: “Hello, Hazel.”
I say I am surprised that he saved my number. “Well, you’re an important person, aren’t you,” he says, chuckling. “How are you getting on?”
I ask him how he’s feeling ahead of the court date in the morning. “I’m so pleased it’s happening,” he says. “The menace of this thing has been around since 2013, when the allegation was first made. And frankly, I’m innocent — so that’s another good reason to want it over and out. How are you getting on, Hazel? How has your background gone?”
Odey was born in Yorkshire, in the north of England, to a family of industrialists. He was educated at Harrow School, an elite private school for boys, and then at the University of Oxford. His father had been head boy at Harrow, but Odey says he’s not sure he really liked it. “There’s always that adage: ‘It was a great school, but you had to hate your child to send him there,’” he tells me. Nonetheless, he had a happy childhood outside in Yorkshire, fishing in rivers, among lots of friends. “I really had a not-at-all-intellectual life,” he says. “My intellectual side came out at Oxford.”
He read history and economics at Oxford and, on the insistence of his grandfather, joined the bar, but he quit in 1983 to join the City of London. “I have been around a long time now,” he reflects. “But there was a sense in which I really did spot that the world changed in 1982 and I needed to get out of law and into fund management.” He joined Framlington Fund Managers before leaving to work at Barings International, where he managed the Barings European Growth Trust. Interest rates were around 13 percent when he started out, he says. There was “really nothing to do other than sit around chatting and talking and thinking, ‘How are we going to make some money?’ I mean, it was lovely,” he goes on. “It was the opposite of today.” Not everyone approved. Odey’s grandfather was so annoyed with his decision to work in the City that he wrote Odey out of his will, leaving him “with nothing but an empty suitcase,” in Odey’s words. “He was a typical industrialist like that,” Odey says. “They had no regard for people playing around with money.” As soon as Odey tried to use the suitcase, it fell apart.
This is one reason Odey needed to earn his own money. Another is that, on his graduation from Oxford, his father’s financial position had worsened to the point that the family had to sell his mother’s ancestral home, the 4,000-acre Hotham Hall estate. He learned a lot from watching the row unfold, he told Management Today in 2011, and from seeing his father “break the rules, which are: Give yourself time, think like a rich man and want to hang on to it, never attempt to make too much too early.” Later, in conversation with a journalist from the Evening Standard, he described his father as “a wastrel from beginning to end” and his grandfather as “a formidable bully.” I ask him how he feels about those words now.
“It was a bit unfair, that,” he says — referring to the article, not his words. “It wasn’t the whole truth. I love my father, and he was bullied a bit by his father.” Odey’s grandfather was a titan, he says, a quality Odey recognizes in himself. “And so my father felt himself between two bullying types.”
Odey won’t get to give his version of the meetings with the claimant until several weeks later. Owing to technical delays in the courtroom CCTV, the trial takes longer than the two days allotted to it at Hendon Magistrates’ Court. The next time I see him, we are at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in central London. He has brought with him the same entourage of lawyers and friends, with the addition of John Mumford’s wife, Eleanor, on her birthday. In the glass atrium of the rather grand court building, the mood is again light. Odey wishes her a happy birthday. “All my friends are messaging me saying, “Hope you’re having a lovely day!’” she says in reply. “And I keep thinking, ‘If you only knew!’”
On the witness stand, Odey is asked by his lawyer, Aylett, to give his version of the meeting with the claimant.
“She was attractive, she was clever, she was involved,” he tells the courtroom. “The next morning, I rang her up and said, ‘Why don’t you come round for dinner?’”
“Why did you invite her to your home?” Aylett asks.
“I thought we would have an entertaining evening.”
“If something had developed, would you have gone with it?”
“It was at the back of my mind,” Odey says.
“Would you have forced yourself on her?”
Aylett then walks Odey through the evening. Odey explains that he saw it as a social evening and that the atmosphere was jovial until the woman suddenly said, “Why are you being so nice to me?”
Aylett interrupts here, instructing Odey to take a pause, given that these details are so important to the case — a courtesy, or a strategy, that was not given to his accuser. Odey pauses. His hair is in a flurry on his head, his eyebrows in a line above his glasses. His wife, Pease, grips her thumb, her eyes volleying between Aylett and Odey as they exchange.
Odey continues, steadily, repeating that the young woman asked him where he thought the evening was going to end. “And I said, ‘If I’m lucky, this might end up in bed.’”
“Pause,” Aylett instructs. The courtroom is silent for half a second. “And her reaction to that?”
“Her reaction was she immediately became very angry. It was the last thing she expected me to say. I had totally misunderstood her questions. She got up, we walked down the stairs to the door in silence, and I let her out.”
At the end of the cross-examinations, the two lawyers sum up for the judge. “The question is, are you sure that there was a physical incident?” Broome, the prosecutor, asks the judge. “This is a question for you to decide the credibility of [the complainant]. The defendant has to prove nothing. I will simply say . . . that he knew he was powerful in the City, and when he asked why [the complainant] was so angry, it wasn’t because she was the subject of a proposition, it was because she was assaulted — and the unfairness of it. And those were her final words [in the cross-examination]: ‘The unfairness of it.’”
Odey fanned himself with a pink handkerchief and briefly wiped his nose. The court had paused over lunchtime for Judge Rimmer to make his decision. Within an hour, the case would be over. Odey and Pease sat with the entourage of lawyers and friends in the bright atrium, on a bank of eight chairs facing one another, ignoring signs asking people to respect social distancing. Odey opened a plastic carrier bag and dished out packets of crisps, chocolate bars, and homemade sandwiches wrapped in Saran wrap. “What about this one?” Odey said, foisting a chicken and mayonnaise sandwich toward Pease, on the chair opposite. The hand holding the sandwich trembled almost imperceptibly. Peart asked Odey how it felt when he was being cross-examined, while Pease chatted with the Mumfords, reflecting on the job of the magistrate. “It’s a terribly lonely job, isn’t it?” Pease said. “Because you have got two people telling you what to think and you have to go away and decide.”
Aylett, the defending lawyer, came over. “This is a bit like waiting for one of Boris’s press conferences — waiting to hear what we can do for the next three weeks,” he said, referring to the once-daily government broadcasts by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, setting out the severity of lockdown during Covid. Everyone laughed.
Pease asked if there would be much of a preamble before the verdict. “I have to say I’m not altogether familiar with how a magistrates’ court works,” Aylett said, the implication being that he usually defends his clients before a proper jury.
Odey has a theory. “Look, I love it when you’re in points of change,” he told me in February, the day before the trial began. “That’s very much when I start to do well. And that’s why, when this girl came round to see me for dinner, it was because it was 1998 and 1998 was a phenomenally interesting year.”
“What does that have to do with the incident?” I asked.
“Basically, we’d been talking about it and she seemed interested. And I’m always amazed if anyone has any interest in macros . . . in macro stuff. So that’s why I invited her round for dinner. She said to her mates at work, ‘I’ve been invited round to talk macros with Crispin,’ and they said, ‘Do you really believe that?’ And that’s why, so early — I had only just ordered takeaway — that’s why she said, ‘Hey, why have you invited me here?’ And that’s where I thought she said it slightly . . . I misunderstood it. As soon as I’d said I was hoping for something else later, or another time, she got up and stormed out. Would you have done the same, Hazel?”
“Impossible to say.”
“How old were you then, Hazel, at that point?”
“I think you should have run out!” A hoarse chuckle down the line.
How will history remember a man like Odey? Some of his funds have changed their names to Brook — but Odey continues to go into the office anyway, not unlike his founding investor, Soros, who became known as “the man who broke the Bank of England” after he shorted the pound and made $1 billion in 1992. Afterward, wishing to continue operating in London even though it was problematic, Soros worked out of Odey’s offices instead of his own.
Then there are the other women. I ask him if he remembers the incidents detailed in the press: the receptionist, the one he propositioned at a dinner. Another who told The Sunday Times that she reported Odey to the police for groping her breasts at a dinner in 2008 — only to be given “conflicting” and “confusing” guidance by the officers handling her case.
“These other incidents,” I ask, “do you remember them? Are they familiar to you?”
“Please!” he says. “Don’t undermine my intelligence!”
“What do you mean?”
“N- No! But did they happen? I don’t care! They might have! Did I stop at the bus stop on the way home?”
“So it doesn’t matter whether they are true or not?”
“It matters. But they’re not crimes. They’re tittle-tattle. Hazel, you’ve lived long enough. Things have happened to you. It’s the same point, I’m afraid.”
Since the courts came down squarely on his side, would he still choose the court of history over the court of law?
“History has come down on my side as well,” he declares. But he will not get to write his own history. The case may be over, but history isn’t written yet.
In a verdict that lasted 30 minutes, the judge started with what could be established as facts. Then he talked about the “catalogue of inconsistencies” in the complainant’s account. “While taken individually those things might seem inconsequential, recollections are likely to be poorer and each one rings a consistent level of doubt of what happened in 1998,” he said. “As to you,” he said, addressing Odey, “I find you have been consistent throughout — in the first interview, in your written defense, and what you said today.”
Then, although it was already clear, he gave the verdict outright. Not guilty. “You have reached 62 without a stain on your character,” he said. “You are not guilty and you may leave this courtroom with your good character intact.”
On the judge’s final words, Pease rushed over to her husband and embraced him. He stood upright, stiff as a rod, before moving out of the defendant’s box to lean heavily against a silver handrail. “Oh, the relief,” he said, while his lawyers packed up their papers and congratulated one another. “The relief.” A reporter from a tabloid tried to talk to him on the way out of the courtroom.
For once, Odey was lost for words.