Jim Armitage: Watchdog moves so slowly it still isn't wise after the event

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The Independent Online

Outlook If you thought the wheels of justice grind slowly, wait till you get a load of the Financial Reporting Council.

The regulator of Britain's company audits has proudly announced it has launched an investigation into the conduct of Christopher Moore and Mark Woodbridge, formerly of software company Torex Retail.

The FRC, it seems, is concerned that the pair might have not behaved altogether appropriately with the accounts of that company. It's not sure, but, having weighed up the pros and cons, thinks it might be worth taking a look. Turn over a few stones, you know the kind of thing.

All well and good, except that Mr Moore and Mr Woodbridge were jailed in January and June of this year for conspiracy to defraud shareholders in 2006 and 2007.

Mr Moore, the former chairman of Oldham Athletic, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 months for each of his two offences in January. Mr Woodbridge got a total of three years and 10 months after being found guilty in a trial in June. The fraud involved artificially inflating the amount of cash the company had in its books. Mr Moore admitted creating false documents to make it look like Torex had £6.5m more than it actually did. Mr Woodbridge conspired on one of those frauds and falsely inflated revenues by a further £2m.

Extremely serious stuff.

The SFO investigation cost £1.1m.

So why, bearing in mind that the events took place nearly seven years ago and the last director to be prosecuted was jailed six months ago, has the FRC only decided now the pair might have done something wrong?

"It has taken us a little while to see if we have enough evidence," says a spokeswoman.

I wouldn't dream of prejudging the outcome of this investigation, but, were the FRC to find anything amiss, the pair could find themselves on the end of a "severe reprimand". They might even face a temporary suspension of their FRC membership. Mucking out the pigsties at Ford Open Prison, or wherever Mr Woodbridge currently abides, must seem like a breeze in comparison.