Fare’s fair

Any UK reader who has gasped in horror while handing over (metaphorical) fistfuls of cash to their railway company will remember the outrage we all felt when, in April 2014, it was revealed that a “City financier” had been cheating on his fares for years.  (In short, he boarded the train at a rural station with no ticket barriers, then disembarked in the City and “touched out” with his Oyster card, thus being docked the maximum fare of £7.20 – for a journey for which he should have paid £24.50.  For five years.  While earning about a million a year.)  The full puffed-chest, hands-on-hips indignation can be sampled in this article from the Daily Bile.  You will spot that throughout the article the fare-dodger is unnamed, as part of his deal with the railway company was his anonymity, and indeed at the end of the piece the journalist encourages anyone who knows the identity of the miscreant to contact the paper.  But in August 2014, the fare-dodger was warned by the Financial Conduct Authority that they were taking an interest in him, and the cat was out of the bag: he was suspended from his job and eventually resigned.

Yesterday the FCA announced the outcome of its own investigations: Jonathan Burrows has been banned from working in the City again.  As explained in the Final Notice from the FCA, at the time of his offences Burrows was an approved person, but now “the Authority considers that Mr Burrows is not fit and proper to conduct any function in relation to any regulated activity… because he lacks honesty and integrity [and so] he has failed to meet the FCA’s Fit and Proper Test for Approved Persons”.  The FCA press release reveals that “Burrows also admitted in interview that he did not disclose his behaviour to his employer.  Although the FCA is not penalising Burrows for not informing his employer the FCA has taken this into account, amongst other things, in deciding what action to take.”

In the words of my primary school teacher (and doubtless yours too), I find Burrows’s behaviour more disappointing than anything.  We are all tempted, from time to time, to make a quick gain over “the system”.  (When I was a skint student, I once cut an unfranked stamp from a letter I had received and stuck it on one I was sending – I was plagued with guilt for months over that one.)  But those of us who work in finance are in such a position of trust – looking after other people’s money, for heaven’s sake – that we must be held to the highest standards.  Poor old BlackRock had no idea that their MD was the fare-dodger in the press; he fessed up only when he realised that the FCA would be contacting his employer anyway.  And in the intervening months, and indeed his five preceding fare-dodging years, just how fit and proper were his actions with client money?  What a difficult situation for BlackRock.  So should Burrows have been able to strike that anonymity deal in the first place?  Or should his approved status have made it a criminal offence for him not to disclose crimes of dishonesty?  (I think he settled out of court with the railway company, so in fact has no conviction – even trickier.)

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6 Responses to Fare’s fair

  1. Robert James Long says:

    I remain irked that the railway company chose not to press charges in the first place. Permitting the gentleman to escape, even with a payment greater than that he would have made had he been buying his ticket (I undertsand the payment was the value of single ticket for the journey rather than a return) sent a terrible message.

    I ntoe in hsi released statement that the chap was sorry the FCA had to spend time on this when it had bigger cirminals to pursue. That enraged me more, the old “but my cirme is really small so we can overlook it really. it woudl eb petty to pursue it…”.

    Hmmph!

    • Dear Robert

      Yes, I was not happy about the railway company’s decision either – I have always supported the idea of the law treating everyone the same, and the average fare-dodger (i.e. one who was doing it through genuine lack of funds) would not have been able to make this deal and so would have been prosecuted. (I speak from experience: as a magistrate in the UK, I see plenty of railway fare-dodgers in court.)

      And he does not show a great deal of remorse, that’s true. As this suggests that he does not really see the seriousness of his crime (or perhaps, the seriousness of what it indicates about his attitude to money and the law), it is good that the FCA has banned him.

      Best wishes from Susan

  2. Claire says:

    Oh dear! I had to go steal peaches in the Provence orchards with my mother when I was a teenager. We were a middle class family, no money worries. Re-using an unfranked stamp would still leave me unfazed. But I respect farmers and do not steal their produce any more. I return to the shop if I notice too much money was returned. And I never dodge a fare. This man commited a pretty serious crime. And he got away with it. I am all for old-fashioned shaming of criminals. A warning to others. In the end, he lost his job. What comes round, goes round…

  3. Like you, Claire, I am scrupulously honest these days. When I was six I found seven pound notes in a playground. My mother and I took them to the local police station and after three months, when they were unclaimed, I was allowed to keep them! Nowadays, I still take notes to the police, but If I find coins on the floor, I put them into the nearest charity box.

    Like you, I favour naming and shaming – it has worked for centuries as a deterrent.

    Best wishes from Susan

  4. Roy McCarthy says:

    On Dublin’s LUAS (light railway) you are so unlikely to be ticket-checked that fare dodging is almost accepted. It’s not right and I’d simply walk if I was penniless but there is no general guilty feeling. But I’m afraid that when one is in a position of trust this sort of erosion of personal standards is unacceptable.

  5. You put that beautifully, Roy – “erosion of personal standards”. But I note from Burrows’ own statement (http://www.cityam.com/205665/blackrocks-jonathan-burrows-fca-has-more-profound-wrongdoing-mine-investigate) an unwillingness to take full blame. We see this a lot: watch any public figure on the news after a disaster, and they will always say “we” and “our” errors, rather than “me” and “my”. They should make it personal – after all, I think they take their salary alone, rather than sharing it with others!
    Best wishes from Susan

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