Lawyer allegedly punched fashion designer in row over climbing over chair at Royal Opera House

16 December 2019, 15:37

Ulrich Engler (right) was allegedly attacked at the Royal Opera House
Ulrich Engler (right) was allegedly attacked at the Royal Opera House. Picture: PA

By Megan White

A lawyer allegedly punched a fashion designer in a dispute over the latter climbing over a chair at the opera, a court has heard.

Matthew Feargrieve denied attacking Ulrich Engler with "a constant flow of blows" after the latter climbed into an empty seat and moved Feargrieve's partner's coat.

Mr Engler was attending the third performance of the Ring Cycle by Wagner when he moved into an empty seat in the front row, next to Feargrieve, 43, and his partner Catherine Chandler, shortly before the beginning of the performance.

The designer said he had moved into the empty chair in row A from his seat in row B at the opera three days earlier, before the second instalment of Wagner's four-part epic, and did so again on October 7.

But on the second occasion, Feargrieve, an investment funds lawyer, allegedly attacked Mr Engler, striking him “several times,” City of London Magistrates' Court heard.

The attack allegedly took place at the Royal Opera House
The attack allegedly took place at the Royal Opera House. Picture: PA

Charles Shelton, prosecuting, said: "We say Mr Feargrieve had seen Mr Engler climbing over the seat before that night and took some offence.

"He thought it was poor form and he was annoyed at Mr Engler for that kind of action.

"Mr Engler again climbed over the seat, he moved the coat belonging to Ms Chandler and they objected. The Crown say he struck him several times."

Mr Engler, whose clients include the Countess of Derby, told the court he was attacked within ten minutes of the beginning of the performance and was left with injuries to his left side.

He said: "I was behind the couple slightly on the right. As there was an empty seat three days before, I did exactly the same that night and the couple did not object to it.

"I saw a coat on the seat and I asked the woman if she would mind me sitting next to her.

"She said yes she would mind. I asked her if she had paid for the empty seat and she said she had not."

Ulrich Engler was attending the third performance of the Ring Cycle by Wagner
Ulrich Engler was attending the third performance of the Ring Cycle by Wagner. Picture: PA

Mr Engler said he took the coat and placed it on Ms Chandler's lap before climbing into the seat and apologising.

He continued: "By then the conductor was up and the music started and I received blows to my left shoulder.

"I had never seen someone looking with so much anger and terror at me.

"He was up, leaning over the woman hitting me. While Mr Feargrieve was hitting me, he said, 'How dare you talk to my wife like this'.

"The only three things I said to this woman was would you mind if I sat next to you again, have you paid for the seat and that I was sorry.

"It wasn't just a few blows, it was an assault. It was a constant flow of blows."

The court heard Ms Chandler tried to calm Feargrieve down and the couple left.

Mr Engler was subsequently arrested at the opera house on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm, but he was not charged.

Lisa Wilding QC, defending, said Feargrieve was defending his partner from Mr Engler and dislocated his arm in the process.

She said Mr Engler threw the coat on the floor and pushed Ms Chandler as she bent down to pick it up.

Ms Wilding said: "When she did that, you physically shoved her back. I suggest that the motion of pushing her as she was getting her coat pushed her into Mr Feargrieve.

"I suggest she went forward again and his arm went behind her and he tried to reach out to you to push you away."

Mr Engler replied: "Nothing of that happened, it's all fabrication.

"I put it into the woman's lap. I never saw the coat on the floor."

Ms Wilding told the court that Mr Engler made the counter allegation after his arrest due to the impact to his reputation.

She said: "You thought you had to do something for damage limitation. You wanted to do something to repair your reputation from your arrest.

"This whole court hearing is to make good some of the damage from when you were arrested."

The trial continues.