Simon and Matthew Sykes had always been close. With only a year between them, there had, perhaps, been a good chance that would be the case. But they were very different and this was always a reason why people were surprised.
Simon was by far the bigger of the two, tall, fair, broad-shouldered and seeming to excel in every sporting activity he tried his hand at. Matthew, on the other hand, was far shorter, dark-haired, slight of build and always seeming to have his nose in a book. Perhaps it was these obvious differences that gave rise to Simon’s keen sense of protectiveness towards his younger brother. From their youngest days, other boys learnt that bullying Matthew (although superficially a seemingly attractive proposition) was out of the question. Simon’s vengeance, in support of his brother, could be instant and without restraint.
At sixteen, after dismal exam results, Simon joined his Dad, Norman, in his building firm. It wasn’t that he was stupid; he just couldn’t see the point in school work and qualifications. At building work, however, it soon became clear that he was a natural; strong enough to keep going all day, whatever the weather, a great eye for detail, got on well with all the clients and soon became a reliable and valued builder. Slowly but surely, the rest of the team came to look up to him, not because he was Norman’s lad but because he did everything right, never wasted materials, never held anyone else up, was fair to all, always finished on time and always took a pride in what he did.
Matthew, though, did well at school, passing his ‘O’ levels with high grades. And, when he announced he would like to stay on in the 6th Form, both parents greeted this news with delight. But whilst Maureen renewed her claims of the brains coming from her side of the family, Norman was concerned that the boy wouldn’t follow his brother into the business. He had always hoped that, with both lads following him into the firm, he would be able to enjoy a secure retirement. When Matthew overheard his father expressing these concerns, he had assured him that he had plans that would make Norman’s concerns melt away. Nevertheless, Maureen had got a job at the local school, helping out with the dinners and cleaning and suchlike, to ensure she could put a little away to help out should the need arise.
While Simon continued to excel in the building trade, Matthew forged ahead with his studies focused now on maths and science. Whilst they both worked hard they also found time to continue other pursuits. Simon was now playing in the first Fifteen at the local Rugby club and cycled year-round competing in triathlons (when they didn’t clash with rugby). Matthew had now joined the school debating society in addition to continuing singing in the choir. Despite these differences in interests the two remained close, with Simon stepping in on more than one occasion in a local pub or disco when Matthew’s insensitive voicing of opinions nearly ignited a violent reaction from groups of the local lads. When Matthew left to take up an offer at Durham, Simon made sure that he left with some stern brotherly advice focused on the need to keep his opinions to himself in public places.
Time flew by and Matthew seemed to learn to keep out of trouble and graduated with a first in maths. Shunning the bright lights of London and the growing opportunities in major companies, Matthew joined a modest sized firm of Financial Advisors and started studying for his IFA qualifications. When questioned on the wisdom of these moves, he would only smile and say that it was but a carefully considered step along the road to his ultimate goal.
Simon began gradually taking on more responsibility in the family firm (now proudly renamed as Sykes and Son – Artisan Builders). He and Norman began shifting the emphasis away from repairs and extensions towards building a few new houses. Simon was now engaged to his longstanding girlfriend Louise and they were saving carefully for the house they wanted before they married. There was much discussion within the family over the opportunity presented by buying a rundown old place and doing it up versus a newbuild. Meanwhile, they put away every penny they could spare.
It wasn’t long before Matthew announced he had passed his IFA exams and was setting himself up as an independent advisor. Somewhere along the way, he seemed to have come out of his shell and acquired new social skills and was successfully building a client base for whom he invested savings and pensions. He also made introductions to lenders for a growing number of local businessmen and women. By this time, he had no difficulty in persuading both Norman and Simon to make introductions amongst their contacts.
It was over a family dinner one Sunday that Matthew turned his attention to persuading both Norman and Simon that if they wanted to improve the performance of their respective investments he could assist with very advantageous rates. After a great deal of discussion both men agreed to place their funds under Matthew’s supervision. When the signing of all the documents was over, Matthew said he was proud to help his brother. Following these investments Matthew turned his attention to ensuring that Sykes and Son were made aware of a substantial borrowing opportunity at very attractive rates that would enable them to expand their land purchases and new build activities. There was talk of Matthew coming on board as a non-exec.
All went well with Matthew delivering regular performance updates showing substantial growth in investments as a result of well above sector returns. Matthew was now driving a new Jaguar and had bought a very nice penthouse flat in an upmarket town-centre development. The success of his venture was evident.
It was sometime later that stories began to emerge about difficulties that investors were having accessing their investments. Simon and Louise were camping in the West Country and Norman had taken time off to recover from a serious bout of influenza, so they weren’t able to pick up on the story initially. Then, when a local newspaper decided to investigate, the story quickly went national and the full facts became known. It was unquestionable that Matthew Sykes and a number of others across the country had been complicit in setting up and running a Ponzi scheme – it had been bound to fail, the only question being when. There was little if any hope of meaningful recovery by investors.
In his summing-up prior to sentencing, the judge stressed that the death of Matthew Sykes was clearly precipitated by the blow delivered by his brother Simon. However, he went on to state that there were extenuating circumstances, namely the provocation over the wanton behaviour of the deceased in pursuing ever more risky investments (that in time led to the complete loss of the accused & his father’s savings). In considering additional mitigating factors, he drew attention to the behaviour of the Sykes family dog who appeared to have joined in the fracas, causing the deceased to fall backwards over a balustrade running around his rooftop terrace.
Taking account of these factors, he had decided that a custodial sentence was not appropriate & made provisions for probation and community service.