SFO disclosure triumph for Guinness defendants

Lawyers attempting to overturn the convictions of the four Guinness defendants have won a court order forcing the Serious Fraud Office to give them all relevant undisclosed material by 14 August.

The lawyers had expressed concern that the SFO was slow in disclosing some papers, and had pressed for disclosure of further files on Guinness to be provided. Some of these other papers are allegedly held by the Metropolitan police and by John Wood, the first-ever SFO director and now a consultant at Denton Hall.

Lord Justice Kennedy said he did not doubt the SFO was gathering papers from various sources to provide to the defence, but stressed the process needed quick completion to allow time for defence preparation for the appeal, due to start on 16 October.

The defendants are appealing against their convictions in 1990 on fraud and theft charges relating to the Guinness takeover of Distillers.

The four and their lawyers are: Ernest Saunders, former Guinness chief executive, represented by solicitors Vernor Miles & Noble with counsel Jonathan Caplan QC and Justin Cole of 5 Paper Buildings; financier Jack Lyons, represented by Stephenson Harwood and counsel Anthony Scrivener QC of 2-3 Gray's Inn Square and Mark Ellison of Hollis Whiteman Chambers; former stockbroker Tony Parnes represented by Peters & Peters, with counsel Nicholas Purnell QC of 36 Essex Street and Clare Montgomery of 3 Raymond Buildings; and property tycoon Gerald Ronson represented by Mishcon De Reya with counsel John Mathew QC of 5 Paper Buildings and Ian Gatt of Littleton Chambers, 3 King's Bench Walk North.

Earlier this year it became known that defence lawyers may call Director of Public Prosecutions Barbara Mills QC and High Court judge John Chadwick QC to provide affidavits and oral evidence over their advice to the SFO in the first Guinness trial.

They are understood to have advised the SFO on the non-disclosure of the findings of a Licensed Dealers Tribunal in the City during the first trial, which the original four defendants believe could help overturn their convictions. Such an outcome could result in compensation claims worth millions of pounds.

The prosecution team subsequently disclosed the tribunal's report in the second Guinness trial against Lord Spens.

The City tribunal, looking into dealings by broker TWH, found no fault with the type of share-dealing techniques that were used in the Guinness share-support operation.