Will Hutton's piece on the Galleon insider trading scandal in New York raises the question of how widespread is this practice.

In fact, there has never been a significant number of prosecutions on either side of the Atlantic for dealing on priveliged information, so is hard to be sure.

However as Hutton points out, the only way to explain the significant price movements that often occur before deals are announced is by insider trading.

From my own experience, of the small number of characters we filmed in City Stories, a Channel Four series on traders and brokers which I produced in the Nineties, three appeared to have made money illegally. City Stories was not commissioned as an investigative series, but the fact remains that we stumbled over rather a lot of evidence of insider dealing in the year that we spent in The City.

In one scene from the series, stockbroker Nigel Howe, also known as The Spaniard, takes the first call from his boss about insider dealing he was suspected of instigating with another man known as The Plumber. Pint in hand, the outraged Nigel denies it all but he was eventually fined by the FSA for it. Nigel had used his account at spread betting firm City Index to illegally support a deal he was working on.

My strong impression was that Nigel was only unusual in that he was careless enough to be caught. Two other traders in the series confided privately that they had made hundreds of thousands of pounds by tipping each other off in the simplest way imaginable, seconds before deals were publicly announced.

The scene with Nigel in the pub, and another, a boozy lunch in which he discusses suspicious share movements, barely rated a raise of an eyebrow from our contributors and other viewers in the Square Mile, or at Channel 4. The feeling appeared to be that this kind of thing wasn't news because it happens all the time.

Indeed, it’s only when major league bankers appear in handcuffs, as in the current case in New York, and the other accused come from major corporations such as IBM, credit-ratings agency Moody's and consultanting firm McKinsey that such cases make headlines.   

Comments

In that everyone close to Westminster had known (or suspected) it for years, but it took an explosion of data to hit the headlines.

That great broadcaster Laurie Taylor has a series on Radio 4 about middle class crime. Next week he looks at crime in the City.

Discarded mobiles, wire-taps and Mr Bigs. Welcome to Wall Street