When Guinness attempted to purchase Distillers – the makers of Smirnoff vodka and the controversial Thalidomyde drug – in 1986, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) smelled a rat. After detailed investigations, it was discovered that the share value was being illegally supported.
Gerald Ronson, the chief executive of Heron, financier Jack Lyons, stockbroker Anthony Parnes and the Guinness chief executive Ernest Saunders were found guilty in 1990 of different offences, ranging from theft to false accounting. All served jail sentences except for Lyons due to ill health, who was instead fined £3m.
However, it was later discovered that the evidence used to convict them had been obtained under compulsion during the SFO's investigations. The answers they had given to formal questioning by Department of Trade and Industry inspectors were used against them during the trial. As a result, their right not to incriminate themselves had been breached.
According to the European Convention, this was a contravention of Article 6, and the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the trial was unfair. Their guilt, however, was not in question, and the sentences remain. Whether or not they will challenge the convictions is undecided. However, two earlier attempts to have the conviction overturned had already been rejected by the Court of Appeal.