DTI forced to climb down in Berry case: Government resorted to 'star chamber tactics' in attempt to disqualify him, says ex-chairman of Blue Arrow (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online
CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 13 OCTOBER 1994) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

TONY BERRY, former chairman of Blue Arrow, the employment agency, made a swingeing attack on the Department of Trade and Industry yesterday for 'star chamber tactics' after it dropped its two-year attempt to disqualify him as a director.

The decision not to proceed was delivered by letter to Mr Berry half an hour before a hearing was due to start on disqualification proceedings stemming from Blue Arrow's pounds 25m loan to the entrepreneur Peter de Savary for a property development on Canvey Island.

A jubilant Mr Berry said: 'This is my first real day of freedom after a six-year nightmare. It's a major climb-down for the DTI.

'As soon as the DTI found there was no fraud or impropriety on my part, they should have dropped it. They knew that after the first four months (of the investigation). It was bizarre. I can only presume it was political. The whole of the episode was to get Tony Berry.'

Mr Berry said he would apply to the court for costs to recoup the pounds 1.1m he spent on his defence, and depending on the outcome would then sue the DTI for damages.

He estimated the DTI had spent pounds 5m or more on its six-year investigations into his activities.

A spokesman for the DTI said it had spent pounds 66,000 on counsel's fees during the case. He said the President of the Board of Trade decided to drop the case for several reasons. He said the DTI had taken into account fresh evidence given to the courts by Mr Berry in May.

In addition, he said, certain witnesses had been unwilling to repeat in open court certain evidence originally given to DTI inspectors for their report on Blue Arrow released in 1992.

The spokesman also said certain witnesses had shifted from supporting disqualification to supporting Mr Berry. 'After taking the advice of legal counsel, the DTI decided to drop proceedings.'

On the question of whether any compensation was due to Mr Berry, the DTI spokesman said it was up to the courts to decide 'who paid what'.

Mr Berry thanked friends and colleagues who had stood by him, such as Michael Ashcroft, ADT's chief executive, as well as 47 individuals who had sworn affidavits to the DTI on his behalf. These included Alan Sugar, chairman of Amstrad and Tottenham Hotspur, and Geoffrey Lindey, chairman of the investment committee of the National Association of Pension Funds and a member of the Takeover Panel.

Mr Berry said the decision vindicated him, enabling him to restart a business career that has been handicapped by the threat of disqualification. Last autumn he bought a half- share in a private recruitment agency called Recruit. Michael Ashcroft owns the other half.

He said that over the past two years the London Stock Exchange had put pressure on two stockbrokers to get him to resign from the chairmanship of British Technology Group, a quoted office supplies company. Mr Berry refused, but was forced to resign last autumn.

'I was spending 50 per cent of my time dealing with this inquiry, 25 per cent on earning a living and 25 per cent on Spurs. Now I'm going to spend 100 per cent of my time on Recruit,' Mr Berry said. He will continue as a non-executive deputy chairman of Tottenham.

He also attacked Terry Venables, the England football manager and former managing director of Tottenham. '(He) will have to eat his words now. His book said I was banned from the City.'

CORRECTION

Tony Berry

In Tuesday's newspaper, we described Tony Berry, the former Blue Arrow chief, as also ex- chairman of British Technology Group. He was, in fact, chairman of Business Technology Group, an unrelated company.

(Photograph omitted)

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