Jeff Prestridge  

Losing a friend over press

Jeff Prestridge

Jeff Prestridge

I have lost two close friends in recent weeks. I mourn their losses hugely.

The first is the death of the mother of my niece’s husband, a lovely lady who had a heart of gold. She was deeply religious and the bond between mother and son was unbreakable.

She unexpectedly turned up to my Dad’s funeral two years ago, offered her condolences, and my mother was mightily touched.

Throughout her life, she had nothing but kind words to say about everyone. Like her son Henry, a super teacher, one of life’s good people. Rest in peace, Louisa Mills.

Your soul and spirit will live on in Henry.

The second is a financial adviser I have known for close on 30 years.

Thankfully, they have not departed this wonderful world of ours, but instead they have chosen to terminate our friendship. A friend lost forever, it would seem.

A relationship that in our time saw us campaign on some big personal finance issues. 

A bond that resulted in me making congratulatory speeches at dinners to celebrate their business success and them kindly (and generously) sponsoring several of my charity runs for Brathay Trust.

As well as sorting out my parents’ pension, ensuring my mother now has an adequate retirement income to see her through her twilight years.

So, when the end came, it came a little out of the blue. It was a message that read: "Farewell my friend. And that’s my last ever words to you sadly."

The reason for the farewell? Step forward Neil Woodford of Woodford Investment Management.

My friend had taken exception to my reporting and that by personal finance and City colleagues of the rapid meltdown at Woodford Investment Management.

"Surprised at you, Jeff. Indeed, deeply disappointed." 

"Hope you’re proud of your 'profession'." The inverted commas were theirs. 

This was in response to an article I had written in The Mail on Sunday, days after the Woodford Equity Income fund had been ‘gated’ where I opined (wrongly or rightly) that Woodford Investment Management's days were numbered.

Then, after my comment piece on Mr Woodford for Financial Adviser two weeks ago, more messages followed, accusing the press of: "A witch-hunt, a character assassination which [Neil Woodford] does not deserve. A sad, sad time."

There was more: "So, you don’t recognise the link between the media coverage and redemptions [on Woodford Equity Income]. Simply coincidence, eh?"

And then some more, followed by the final farewell. It wrecked my Saturday night and my weekend.

Pushing aside the loss of a friendship, what this dark episode does demonstrate is that Mr Woodford polarises opinion like few other figures in investment management.

There are those who respect him hugely for his success at Invesco Perpetual – and who still continue to believe that he will come good again if given a half chance.