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Disputes perspectives: Claire Shaw

I was an incredibly good girl and my mother was incredibly opinionated: I basically did whatever she told me to do! For years I wanted to be a doctor but then I realised I absolutely hated chemistry and you couldn’t be one without chemistry. So I had a crisis after my O-Levels where I thought ‘Oh God what am I going to be then?’ So suddenly my mum said: ‘Right, that’s it then, you’re going to be a lawyer.’ She’s of that generation that absolutely idolised professions – she always called our family doctor by his first name.

But I wasn’t convinced at all by law when I graduated. I was still in touch with some doctors who my family used to live next door to. The husband of that couple went to Cambridge with Helena Kennedy QC. He said ‘Oh we’ve got Helena’s number, ring her, she’ll tell you what to do!’ At the time she was presenting a programme called Heart of the Matter, I absolutely loved it. I wanted to be her. I rang her from a phonebox (in the days long before mobile) and she was so lovely. She said: ‘The world needs women in the law. Finish your legal qualifications, go into the law, then go into television from there.’ So in a way, my legal career was all down to Helena Kennedy. I was lucky enough to do a couple of great criminal cases with her when I was training.

I started off working in the City at The Securities Association, the self-regulatory organisation for the London Stock Exchange. Towards the end of my time there and soon after the creation of the SFO, I saw a magazine cover which featured a black and white photograph of Barbara Mills, who was about to take over as director. I thought: ‘That’s what I want to do, white-collar crime.’ It was all about blood on the boardroom carpet and scandal. I loved the drama and the intrigue. I also loved that at the end of the day, these were criminal cases, so you had to explain them to a jury. If you can’t explain it to your grandma, you can’t explain it to a jury.

As far as I know, I’m the only person in the white-collar crime world who started in defence practice, went to prosecution, returned to corporate defence, then went in-house at a target of multinational investigations. I’ve also been a whistleblower. So I’ve seen it all.

One of the most interesting cases I worked on at the SFO was that of Evelyn Burton and Laila Andre. It was so interesting Channel 4 made it into a documentary. Burton was the main protagonist. She was an advance fee fraudster and she used to swagger around as this ‘high interest investment broker’. Australian, very brash. Very in your face. Laila largely remained in the background but Evelyn was very much the upfront fraudster.

She targeted the horseracing community – the bare faced cheek of the woman was incredible. She hired a box at the Royal Windsor Horse Show so that she could be next to the Queen and the cheque for it bounced. She used to ensconce herself at hotels like the Dorchester and the Savoy to meet her victims and convince them that she was very wealthy. She would tip staff with fivers that she pulled out of her bra.

The biggest standout case for me though was R v Rastogi and others, following the collapse of RBG Resources, after three fraudsters conned British banks out of £400m by pretending to run a global metal trading empire. I was the case controller at the SFO, and had the most amazing team with over 20 people working on it, including the fabulous investigator Paige Rumble. It was great having two women running such a big case like that because it was different from how some men at the SFO used to approach things. We were very pragmatic: we immediately cut overseas investigations down to the ones where we knew we
would get evidence.

We worked jointly with the Department of Justice (DoJ) for six years. In the States they got the case wrapped up within three years but it took us the best part of seven. It was this case that led to the comparisons between the UK and the US, the Degrazia Review which I helped with, and the opening of the door to plea negotiations and deferred prosecution agreements.

My counterpart in the DoJ, Marcus Asner, gave evidence at the UK trial and he absolutely had the jury in the palm of his hand. He addressed them by saying: ‘Do you guys watch CSI?’ And they were like: ‘Oooh yes! Yes we do!’

The RBG trial was really long. At one point, the foreman of the jury locked themselves in the loo during the break and sent a note to the judge asking desperately: ‘when are we going to get our holidays?’

Once during the trial, the defendants were giving evidence before they were relocated to their cells over lunchtime. There was a big hoo-ha because they were vegetarian and they had been given vegetarian chilli with no rice, so no carbs. An application went to the judge saying they shouldn’t have to continue to give evidence on account of being so weak, they hadn’t been properly fed. This went on for half an hour. It was extraordinary. A good half an hour of these very expensive QCs on their feet arguing over how many calories the defendants had consumed.

As far as I know, I’m the only person in the white-collar crime world who started in defence practice, went to prosecution, returned to corporate defence, then went in-house at a target of multinational investigations.

Almost all of the senior people I dealt with at the SFO were there because they loved the work. It could be very stressful, and your neck is on the block when you’re on a high-profile case. I had a case where the defendant scarpered off to Jordan where there’s no extradition treaty there and the government had collapsed three times in five years. Every time you’d get somewhere with getting him back, the government collapsed again. We seriously considered getting Tony Blair to write to the King of Jordan.

As a prosecutor, the wellbeing of all involved really did weigh on my mind. During my time defending prosecutions, I had seen the impact on people of the criminal justice process, well before trial. In a police station you’ve got some people who don’t even want to touch the furniture because they can’t quite believe they’re there. When the interview under caution starts and they’re asked whether they have been interviewed under caution before, they sometimes break down. It’s ridiculous to them, and it’s a huge burden on their families. I took the responsibility of putting someone under pressure for a long time very seriously, especially in SFO cases, where the time between charging and conviction is years.

Keystone is one of those firms which puts fun high up on the agenda. That’s a conscious decision because it’s a balance to being a divergent law firm – people can feel quite isolated. That fun factor runs through Keystone like a stick of rock.

Any woman who juggles a career and family has my ultimate respect. I’ve been a single mum since my son was ten months old. It’s not just women, it’s anybody who is determined to have a proper family life as well as a career, and those people are great as a leaders. Roz Wright, former director of the SFO, was in that category.

I remember very clearly, I’d just had my son and was coming back from maternity leave. I went up to the office while Roz was on the phone to the Attorney General. She cut short the call and came zooming out of her office saying: ‘Let me see the baby!’ She wanted to see how I was, and make sure I could work around my childcare responsibilities. That was gold to me because I was so under-confident about doing the job while looking after the baby. She completely dissolved all my worries in one conversation.

James Eadie QC is another inspiration – brain like an encyclopaedia, but an absolutely lovely human being as well. On a commercial case relating to the RBG matter, he kept talking about BFG, rather than RBG. We were all looking at him until he realised and said ‘Oh sorry, I’m reading my daughter that book, it’s on my brain.’

My proudest achievement? Running a successful career while bringing up a child on my own. I had some really amazing support. During the RBG case when conversations with the US would run into the late afternoon, colleagues would come up to my door and say: ‘You’ve got to go! You’ve got to pick up Finlay!’ Most working mums would say that getting support like that is priceless.

The profession has got a lot better at supporting parents, and I hope that continues. The whole Covid-19 thing has made it clear that home schooling responsibilities fall more often on women than men, balancing that with a remote career and running a household (as most women do) is an incredible feat.

I have no regrets. I’ve been through some hairy, stressful times, but they’ve all taught me something so I don’t regret them. I do somewhat regret the impact it had on my son when I went to Paris for a year. But I learned some fantastic things living in Paris. The US guys I worked with couldn’t get over the fact that Paris closed in August, and the French dared to take a full hour lunch every day and have steak or wine if they wanted. And yes, they do leave the office at 6:30pm and go to the theatre.

I have a borderline obsession with the Obamas. I absolutely adore them; what a job to be the president and to have done it with such grace and poise. They didn’t put a foot wrong. I devoured Michelle’s autobiography and am partway through Barack’s. They are my role model family.

I love doing up my house, and have been painting like a madwoman during lockdown. I’m never happier than when I’m surrounded by paint swatches. It’s my passion.

I do like a courtroom drama but my top film has to be Apollo 13. I love that scene where, while the astronauts are running out oxygen in their module, a team of engineers have to make a CO2 filter out of nothing more than socks, plastic tubing and instruction manuals, and they somehow do it. A Few Good Men is another strong contender. That has a real gasp moment. Also The Shawshank Redemption. My favourites usually involve justice prevailing in some way.

On the Marmite debate: I like Twiglets. Which of course are coated in Marmite. But I could never have Marmite on a piece of toast. Maybe it’s the crunch. When it’s on a piece of bread there’s an awful lot to get through.

Life mantra? Everything happens for a reason. It helps you see the good in everything you go through.

Claire Shaw is a consultant solicitor for business crime at Keystone Law.


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