A partner in a leading City law firm who had voiced concerns about having invested in two tax avoidance schemes which were subsequently under investigation by HMRC committed suicide, an inquest has heard.
Stephen Gale, a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, was found dead in the bath of his London flat, having taken a fatal drugs overdose.
The coroner at St Pancras Coroner’s Court heard evidence that Gale’s mental state had altered significantly about two months before his death in February. He was said to have become very concerned about having invested in two tax syndicates which were being probed by HMRC, while his son Sam had been charged with a serious crime and was facing a lengthy jail term if found guilty.
According to Gale’s personal assistant, Samantha Andrews, who had worked with the lawyer for 12 years, he had become distracted, drank two bottles of wine with a whisky chaser most lunch times and on one occasion walked around the office building without his shoes.
Andrews said: ‘He seemed to be running out of steam. He seemed aged all of a sudden - he was forgetting things and seemed to be getting to him. He was in his own little world. He told me he was at the end of his tether.’
Gale’s wife Rebecca, who was the couple’s main home in Scotland at the time of her husband’s suicide, told the inquest that she had noticed no change in the months leading up to his death, and she had no inkling that he intended to take his own life.
However the coroner, Mary Hassell said the evidence suggested a conflict between the image Gale presented to the world and his inner turmoil, and ruled there was ‘no doubt but that he intended to take his own life’.
In a statement Herbert Smith Freehills said: ‘Stephen was a talented restructuring and insolvency partner in our London finance practice, with extensive experience of insolvency and corporate recovery around the world. Chambers recently described him a “world class” restructuring lawyer.’
The firm said Gale had advised on many important and high profile matters for the firm, including acting for Ernst & Young as administrators of Nortel’s European, Middle Eastern and African entities. He also advised JJB Sports on its restructuring and refinancing, as well as acting for various Lehman creditors. Gale lectured widely on corporate recovery matters and was honorary professor in the Faculty of Law at University College London.