Coming to terms with the death of a loved one can be very stressful at the best of times, but to then read in a national newspaper that the person you had so much respect for was being accused of being a fraud and cheat makes things many times worse.
This is exactly what happened to John Wood and his two brothers, following the death of their father Leonard Berney, a war hero and successful businessman who died at the age of 95 in March of this year.
This was a man who at the age of 25 and already a Major in the British Army was one of the first officers to enter Belsen concentration camp in 1945, and as a Jew himself knew that were it not for an accident of birth, he could have been one of the thousands who were shipped through this charnel house.
He spent several months in the camp doing what he and his troops could, to help those who still lived to try to recover their physical and mental health and after Belsen was burnt down, he moved on to become Military Governor of Schleswig-Holstein and remained in that role until he was demobbed in 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
Following his return to the UK and having come from a clothing background, he ran the Berketex clothing factory in Plymouth and later became its MD, and then MD of the Rembrandt clothing company. He sold all of his clothing interests to an international company and at the age of 57 retired, a multi-millionaire and later moved to Marbella to enjoy the sun and lifestyle.
It was at this stage, he became interested in using his own funds to invest in the share market, reportedly with some success. There is no question that he did offer his service to third parties as an advisor on financial investments but his son is adamant that at no time did he take funds directly from investors, but they were all passed to brokers and the concept was that he would take a percentage of any profits that were made from his advice.
Even when he first started this business, there were voices of opposition to his scheme, and even today warnings about his offerings can be found on the internet, but at no time can we find anyone who is named as losing money nor do there appear to be any records of any action being taken against him.
Advice against the investment is perfectly fair and indeed he is said to have warned investors that any investment scheme came with risks, but to wait until a few days after his death before revealing in print all of his alleged improprieties when he has no recourse to respond, does seem to be more than a little questionable.
Leonard Berney was a ‘bon vivant’ from the old school who enjoyed the good life and spent his money on himself. To criticise that without being able to name one person who had lost money because of him in the article that appeared in Spain, and then was taken up by one national newspaper in the UK, does seem unfair to the memory of the man who received glowing obituaries in newspapers all over the world.
During the last few years of his life, he lived permanently on a luxury cruise ship ‘The World’, which literally travelled around the world offering many very rich people a fantastic lifestyle and it was on this ship that he died of a heart attack aged 95.
One can only wonder why, if this man, whose memories of Belsen have been recorded for inclusion in the permanent exhibition in the London Holocaust Museum due to open by 2020, was such a scoundrel, supposedly blacklisted in financial circles around the world, that he was never prosecuted and was allowed to live to this ripe old age without any action being taken against him.
Whatever the answer, Leonard Berney was a genius, either one of the best fraudsters ever to have lived or a man who made money by his own investment skill, using the significant rewards he had obtained by selling his business.