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Banker jailed over fortune in backhanders

A MERCHANT banker and a property developer who paid pounds 650,000 in bribes were jailed yesterday for what a judge described as the "unacceptable face of capitalism".

For years, Gordon Skingley, 66, who ran the loans department of the bank Hill Samuel, funnelled pounds 22m to an old business acquaintance, Brian Burrett. The financial favours included large loans that enabled the 60-year-old former solicitor to secure housing sites and develop them profitably while the country was in recession, Middlesex Guildhall Crown Court in London was told.

"Both of your activities could well be described... as the unacceptable face of capitalism," said Judge Derek Inman, as he sent Skingley and Burrett to prison nine months and ordered them to pay pounds 225,000 and pounds 200,00 respectively towards prosecution costs. Such conduct "damaged commercial life" and the "giving and accepting of bribes must not be tolerated in this country," he said.

The judge told Skingley: "For a man of your intelligence and experience of the banking world, it defies all sense of reason that you maintained through your evidence that... the bank had no need to know of these substantial payments. You kept them quiet and I am quite sure you did that because you knew the consequences of disclosure would be very serious."

The judge said that while he had reduced the prison sentence for Skingley because of ill health, he did not think it right for his accomplice to serve a longer term. He added the question of confiscation would be adjourned for six months.

Skingley - whose pounds 350,000 home in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, must now be sold to help pay his legal bills - and Burrett, of Wimbish, Essex, were each convicted on four counts of corruption between 1988 and 1992.

Skingley joined Hill Samuel in 1969. In 1988 he became general manager of the bank's corporate loans department and a year later he was appointed a main board director. Burrett entered the building and property industry during the Seventies and by the late Eighties was in a partnership enjoying a turnover of more than pounds 13m.

Tim Barnes QC, for the prosecution, said the banker, who has three children, and the businessman, who has five, had known each other for decades. After Burrett became a Hill Samuel customer, he enjoyed financial support with Skingley's help, with loans of up to pounds 12m which were not backed by any independent certification.

Mr Barnes said the payments the banker received for his help were dressed up as payment for commission, advertising and marketing consultancy. The men's activities came to light in 1995 after Lloyds/TSB, which took over Hill Samuel, contacted the Serious Fraud Office, and a four-year joint investigation with the City of London Police began.

An SFO spokesman said yesterday: "It is a satisfactory outcome... it reinforces the message that the SFO will investigate and where appropriate prosecute offences such as these in the face of all the difficulties that have to be overcome."

Both men have lodged notices of appeal against conviction.