Speechly Bircham dragged into private investigation row

Speechly Bircham has moved to clarify its relationship with a private investigation agency after the law firm was mentioned in connection with an investigation about payments to police officers.

At a House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on Monday (21 May), Bindmans partner Mike Schwarz said former Speechlys partner Ian Timlin instructed private investigators RISC Management on behalf of his client, former Nigerian state governor James Ibori.

In April this year Ibori admitted money laundering and was jailed after a trial at the Southwark Crown Court.

Schwarz, who represented Ibori’s London-based solicitor Bhadresh Gohil who was also jailed for money laundering earlier this year, told committee chairman Keith Vaz MP that he had seen invoices from RISC to Speechlys for “half a dozen payments totalling £20,000 over a period of eight or nine months”.

Those invoices have been sent to the committee and to the police.

Schwarz told the committee, which was looking into the use of private investigators, that he suspected the payments had been made to police for information.

According to a Speechlys spokesperson, Timlin left the firm around 18 months ago for an in-house role. He now works as group legal director for Guernsey-based real estate firm Long Port Group.

He could not be contacted today, but has previously told The Guardian he had no knowledge of to whom payments were being made.

Speechlys issued two statements following the evidence at the committee.

The first one said: “In his statement to the Home Affairs Select Committee this morning, Mike Schwarz of Bindmans LLP Solicitors named Speechly Bircham LLP as instructing RISC Management, a firm of private investigators.

“However, his evidence did not suggest that this firm was party to illegal or corrupt payments. This firm is not aware of any payments having been made to police officers by RISC Management Ltd.

“Accordingly if anyone were to suggest we were party to such payments based on the evidence of Mr Schwarz then we must make it crystal clear that we consider the allegation to be false and defamatory.”

The firm then issued a second statement, which said: “RISC Management Ltd was engaged by Speechly Bircham between 2006 and 2008 on behalf of our firm’s former client, James Ibori. This firm is not aware of any payments having been made to police officers by RISC Management Ltd.

“We continue to be willing to assist the police with their investigations, but we believe the allegations are now for RISC Management and the Metropolitan Police to answer, so it would be inappropriate for us to say anything further.”

RISC have denied any wrongdoing.

Today the Metropolitan Police confirmed it had arrested and bailed four men, one serving detective constable and three ex-police officers, in connection with alleged payments to police officers for information.

Three men were held yesterday on suspicion of bribery of a police officer and one man on suspicion of receiving payments for information.

The Metropolitan Police issued a statement which said: “The MPS is investigating an allegation that illegal payments were made to police officers for information by a private investigation agency.

“The Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission in October 2011 which agreed to supervise a DPS investigation into the allegations. This was a pre-planned operation that forms part of a long and complex investigation by the DPS.”