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Fight at the opera! Lawyer hit designer who sat next to wife

Denied assault: Matthew Feargrieve PICTURE: CENTRAL

A CITY lawyer has been convicted of assaulting a fashion designer during a row over a seat at the Royal Opera House.

Matthew Feargrieve, 43, was found guilty yesterday of punching Ulrich Engler at least once during a performance of Wagner at the Covent Garden venue.

Feargrieve lashed out against Mr Engler with ‘a constant flow of blows’ after the designer climbed into an empty seat in the front row next to the lawyer’s partner, Catherine Chandler, and moved her coat.

Climbed into empty seat: Fashion designer Ulrich Engler

Mr Engler told City of London magistrates he had moved into the empty seat — with a better view than his own — three nights earlier and did so again on October 7 last year, which prosecutors said Feargrieve considered ‘poor form’.

Mr Engler said he asked Ms Chandler if he could sit there. When she refused, he asked whether she had paid for it. She said no, so Mr Engler sat down, moving Ms Chandler’s coat and putting it on her lap.

Feargrieve then ‘lashed out’ and punched Mr Engler, who said he suffered injuries to his left side. ‘I had never seen someone looking with so much anger and terror at me,’ he told the court. ‘He was up, leaning over the woman 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.’

Front row blow: The Royal Opera House

A witness and friend of Mr Engler, whose clients include the Countess of Derby, told the court she paid £2,000 to attend, adding: ‘People don’t behave like that at the local cinema, never mind the local opera house.’

Giving evidence, Feargrieve said he only pushed Mr Engler in self-defence after the designer attacked Ms Chandler.

But district Judge John Zani found him guilty of common assault. ‘This is not a case of one’s man punch is another man’s shove,’ he said. Feargrieve, from Barnes, south-west London, will be sentenced next month.