Lawyers deny backing Walker: Court hears advisers were 'not happy' with suspect transactions

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SOLICITORS called in to investigate two suspect sales made by George Walker's leisure empire yesterday tried to distance themselves from the episode, saying they were never satisfied that the transactions were at 'commercial arm's length'.

The George Walker fraud trial heard that the solicitors Simmons and Simmons had been instructed to investigate the transactions after an article in the Independent had questioned the sales.

Gavin Bacon, a partner with the lawyers, denied his firm had added its name to a statement for the Stock Exchange and to shareholders that the deals were genuine following an investigation.

He said his firm was not 'happy', but that the Brent Walker board and auditors had been prepared to accept the transactions.

Colin Nicholls, QC, for Mr Walker, suggested that the solicitors had given 'the seal of approval' to the transactions. Mr Bacon answered: 'That's putting it a bit high.'

He said the solicitors had merely allowed its name to be mentioned in the context of the transactions, which had been 'approved by the board'. He denied ever writing to the company that his firm was 'satisfied' the contracts were real - despite advising on the wording of the statement that 'the board said they were satisfied'.

The trial judge, Geoffrey Rivlin, interjected: 'The impression given is that the board is satisfied of these things having taken the advice of Simmons and Simmons and (the auditors) Peat Marwick'.

'It is implicit any outsider reading it will think that it looks as if Simmons and Simmons and Peat Marwick are quite happy?' Mr Bacon replied: 'It says the board is quite happy'.

Mr Bacon told the jury he had dealt with later Serious Fraud Office inquiries into the two deals. He agreed the inquiry was into Brent Walker's film and film production subsidiaries including substantial amounts of fictitious income.

Earlier, he said his firm had been first instructed to deal with questions from the Independent about the two contracts and whether writs should be issued for libel.