Lawyers defend SFO role in Guinness trial

Saunders: 'strong point'

LAWYERS have leapt to the defence of the Serious Fraud Office following the referral of the Guinness case back to the Court of Appeal.

Revelations that the SFO failed to disclose information to the defence at the original trial should not signal the death-knell for the organisation, a leading fraud specialist claims.

David Kirk, of Simons Muirhead & Burton, accepts that excessive criticism from the media may force the issue.

“But that would be unfair. It should not be the final nail in the coffin,” he says.

Jeffrey Bayes, of Burton Copeland, says it is wrong to assume that the 'Guinness Four' will succeed at appeal. He believes that the issue raised by Ernest Saunders in Europe on the powers of Department of Trade and Industry investigators is based on a stronger point than the appeal in the UK courts.

George Staple, head of the SFO, insists that the appeal will be fought. The findings of the tribunal, which were not revealed to the defence, were irrelevant at the time, he says.

Bayes says that recent revelations that the Home Secretary referred the Guinness case back to the Court of Appeal just 72 hours after he was threatened with judicial review are “extremely disturbing”.

“It seems he has to wait until there is a gun at his head before he appears to do what is right and proper,” he says.

Monty Raphael, who is acting for Anthony Parnes, says his firm Peters & Peters also lodged a judicial review application but the matter was withdrawn the same day when the Home Office confirmed that the case was being referred back to the courts.