Acquitted Ward faces jail in UK for contempt

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The Independent Online
THOMAS WARD, the American lawyer acquitted in the last of the Guinness trials 16 months ago, faces jail if he returns to Britain.

A High Court judge has sentenced Mr Ward to six months in his absence, for contempt over his refusal to co-operate with Department of Trade and Industry inspectors.

In previously unreported proceedings, the judge gave Mr Ward until 27 May to agree to be interviewed, but he is still in the US. The DTI confirmed that inspectors had launched proceedings under the Companies Act to force Mr Ward to co-operate.

The DTI has been trying to produce the Guinness inspector's report in publishable form. But the absence of Mr Ward's side of the story is thought to have been a serious handicap.

Although a direct result of Mr Ward's involvement in Guinness, the latest court proceedings had nothing to do with the criminal case in which he was acquitted.

Mr Ward's solicitor, Harvey Rands of Memery Crystal, said his client would not be automatically jailed if he returned. He said that before the deadline Mr Ward offered himself for interview, through his lawyers, on two conditions: that it took place in Washington and that he was given notice of the points he had to answer. He said there had been no response from the court on this offer.

'It is a question of the construction of the (judge's) order whether he has complied by offering to make himself available for interview within the time limit.' Mr Ward also applied before the deadline for the committal for contempt to be discharged, but this was rejected.

The DTI court case took place only weeks before Mr Ward, who advised the former Guinness chief Ernest Saunders, announced through his American lawyers that he was suing Guinness for dollars 85m. The writs include allegations that Guinness broke the Racketeering, Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act, introduced to fight organised crime.

Mr Ward lodged a writ in California claiming damages for out- of-pocket expenses, loss of income and damage to his legal practice. As well as Guinness, Mr Ward is suing Sean Dowling, a former director of Guinness, and a number of other figures involved in the bid battle for Distillers in 1986.

Guinness is contesting the claims and has instructed lawyers in the US to seek to have the actions dismissed. The lawsuits came more than a year after Mr Ward was found not guilty of theft of pounds 5.2m at the Old Bailey after a five-week trial ended in a unanimous verdict in his favour.

Mr Ward was the only defendant in the Guinness trials to be acquitted by a jury. The second trial, of Roger Seelig and Lord Spens, collapsed before a verdict could be reached.

(Photograph omitted)