Cardiff Crown Court dismisses SFO conspiracy case against Guildhall Chambers silk

A Guildhall barrister charged with attempt to defraud in relation to the sale of four open-cast mining sites has been cleared at a Cardiff Crown Court hearing.

The SFO had brought the case against Guildhall Chambers silk Stephen Davies QC, who is also a door tenant at London’s Wilberforce Chambers (6 February 2013).

Yesterday (18 February 2014) Mr Justice Hickinbottom dismissed the charge made by the SFO as completely without basis in a reserved judgment.

Davies was represented by a four silks during the trial. They included: 7 Bedford Row’s Tim Barnes QC; Landmark Chambers’ Tim Morshead QC who dealt with planning issues; Five Paper Buildings’ Jonathan Caplan QC advised on abuse of process; Blackstone Chambers’ Michael Beloff QC dealt with public law matters.

The team was instructed by Speechly Bircham partner  Robert Thomas. The SFO fielded in house lawyer Ray Chitham who instructed Three Paper Buildings’ Michael Parroy QC.

The judgment brings an end to a year long battle between the SFO, Davies QC and five others including ex-Cardiff City Football Club chief executive Alan Whiteley.

The SFO alleged that the defendants conspired to defraud Neath Port Talbot, Bridgend and Powys councils and The Coal Authority by “deliberately prejudicing their ability effectively to enforce obligations to restore open cast mining sites in South Wales to open countryside and/or for agricultural use”.

Whiteley had formerly been a solicitor at Cardiff firm M&A solicitors with two of the other defendants, partner Eric Evans and solicitor Frances Bodman. The two partners were suspended from the partnership in March 2011 after the firm referred them to the SFO. Their alleged co-conspirators were former directors of Celtic Energy Richard Walters and Leighton Humphreys. 

A statement from Guildhall Chambers said the set was “pleased to record the fact that the exceptional reputation of one of our most respected Queens’ Counsel (Stephen Davies QC) has been vindicated following the long-awaited dismissal of an utterly unsustainable allegation made against him by the SFO”.

In a statement Davies added: “Many aspects of the experience have caused needless anxiety and stress. We had bought a house for my eldest son who has profound and multiple special needs.  We have had to sell that house because of these proceedings.

“The court’s ruling to dismiss the charge at the threshold will avoid the expenditure of further time and money (including substantial public funds) to bring the matter to an end.

“However it does not reverse the new and insidious rule that successful defendants cannot recover their costs in criminal proceedings.  I will seek further advice on steps which might be taken to reverse this rule and also to reduce the risk that others in the future are subjected to the shortcomings which the SFO demonstrated in this case.”  

For the prosecutor, the SFO: 

Three Paper Buildings’ Michael Parroy QC; SFO in-house counsel Ray Chitham

For defendant, Stephen Davies QC:  

7 Bedford Row’s Tim Barnes QC, Three Raymond Buildings’ Guy Ladenburg, Landmark Chambers’ Tim Morshead QC, Five Paper Buildings’ Jonathan Caplan QC aBlackstone Chambers’ Michael Beloff QC; Speechly Bircham partner Robert Thomas