Acquitted Lord Spens awarded pounds 350,000 legal costs

LORD SPENS, the merchant banker accused of fraud because of his involvement in the Guinness affair, was granted his legal costs of more than pounds 350,000 yesterday as he was formally acquitted at Newcastle Crown Court, writes Paul Durman.

The High Court ordered Lord Spens's acquittal last November but legal formalities required a further appearance before Mr Justice Henry, the Guinness trial judge who is on a tour of duty in Newcastle. Lord Spens's application for costs had been turned down by the High Court last November.

Lord Spens, 50, was head of corporate finance at Henry Ansbacher at the time of Guinness's takeover of Distillers in 1986. The fraud and false accounting charges he faced arose from Guinness's illegal share support operation.

Lord Spens was denied a chance to demonstrate his innocence by the collapse of the second Guinness trial in February last year. The trial ended because of an alarming deterioration in the health of Roger Seelig, Lord Spens's co-defendant, who was suffering under the strain of conducting his own defence.

Although the judge accepted that the collapse of the trial was due to no fault of Lord Spens, he initially ordered that the indictment against him should lie on the file, saying he had brought the prosecution on himself. Lord Spens fought on and eventually overturned that decision. He estimates the prosecution has cost him a total of pounds 750,000 - he was forced to sell a treasured stamp collection.

Lord Spens has become a trenchant critic of the Serious Fraud Office, which he has described as 'a cowboy outfit with a gunslinger mentality'. He has accused the authorities of 'burglaries, phone taps, harassment and overt threats to me and my colleagues'. He is also suing the Bank of England for bringing about the loss of his job at Henry Ansbacher.