Guinness defendants seek reversals of verdicts following Ward acquittal

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The Independent Online
FRESH evidence that Guinness-style share support operations were in widespread use in the City during the takeover boom of the mid-1980s is being cited by jailed Guinness defendants as the basis for renewed appeals against conviction.

Tony Parnes, the stockbroker, and Gerald Ronson, the property tycoon, have asked the Home Secretary to refer their cases back to the Court of Appeal so that their convictions can be quashed. Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness chairman, is considering a similar request.

Saunders, Parnes and Ronson have stepped up attempts to clear their names, after the recent acquittal on charges of theft of Thomas Ward, a key figure in the Guinness affair.

The basis of the appeal is the revelation that the Serious Fraud Office has been sitting on evidence of at least six other cases of indemnified share support operations being used at about the same time as Guinness's pounds 2.7bn bid for Distillers.

During the first Guinness trial, lawyers for Parnes insisted that he had not acted dishonestly, since he believed such schemes to be lawful and common practice in the City at that time. Ronson relied in part on a similar line of defence. But neither defendant was able to produce any evidence of it being 'common and accepted' practice.

Shortly before the trial, lawyers for Parnes received written confirmation from the SFO that all unused material concerning the case had been disclosed. It now transpires that evidence of the six other cases of share support operations was not disclosed. Lawyers for Parnes believe that if he had known about this evidence, it would have made a material difference to his defence. In particular, it would have affected his decision not to go into the witness box.

The six previously undisclosed cases all involve the giving of indemnities by the merchant bank Henry Ansbacher to TWH/NV, a firm of licensed dealers. In each case there is no evidence that the companies involved knew of the indemnities.

In October 1985 an indemnity was given to cover purchases of United Newspapers shares to assist that company in its takeover bid for Fleet Holdings.

In February 1986 an indemnity was given to cover BPCC share purchases.

In April 1986 indemnities were used to cover purchases of Extel shares to assist in the takeover of CFE Publications.

In June 1986 indemnities were given to cover the purchase of Next shares during its bid for Grattan.

In September 1986 indemnities were used to cover purchases of Lowe Howard Spink & Bell shares to assist in its takeover bid for Good Relations.

Indemnities were also used in September 1986 to cover purchases of Allied Plant shares to assist in its takeover bid for George Dew.

Phillip Watson and Peter Haig, directors of TWH, claimed in interviews with the SFO that they believed that such practices were proper and common.

In one case, Richard Fenhalls, still chairman of Ansbacher, wrote in an internal memo: 'As a quid pro quo for TWH helping us in the recent United/Fleet Holdings takeover battle, pounds 250,000 is placed with them on a discretionary management basis.'

Professor Michael Levi, an expert on white-collar crime, said he thought that in principle the new evidence could be 'a runnable argument for appeal, especially in the light of recent strictures about inadequate disclosure'.

In his summing-up of proceedings in the first Guinness trial, Mr Justice Henry went out of his way to point out to the jury that nobody had been produced by the defence to back up the assertion that support schemes were common and explain why they thought, if they did, that such practices were honest.

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