DTI moves to prosecute Slickers for market abuse

MIRROR INQUIRY: Former editor Piers Morgan will not face charges over purchases of Viglen shares
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The journalists behind the Mirror's "City Slickers" column could be facing criminal charges after the Department of Trade and Industry said yesterday it had passed information to the courts alleging the pair were guilty of share ramping.

The journalists behind the Mirror's "City Slickers" column could be facing criminal charges after the Department of Trade and Industry said yesterday it had passed information to the courts alleging the pair were guilty of share ramping.

The DTI's move represents the first step towards criminal proceedings against James Hipwell and Anil Bhoyral, who were sacked from the Mirror over the share-dealing scandal four and a half years ago.

Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Mirror, who was sacked last month after publishing faked pictures of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners of war, has been cleared by the four-year inquiry.

The DTI said its prosecution branch has sent information to Thames magistrates' court alleging that Mr Hipwell, Mr Bhoyrul and the share trader Terry Shepherd conspired to commit an offence under section 47(2) of the Financial Services Act.

It is alleged by the DTI that between August 1999 and February 2000, the three men created "a misleading impression as to the value of investments ... thereby inducing other persons to acquire those investments by using the 'City Slickers' column in the Daily Mirror to tip those investments".

"If accepted by the magistrates, they can expect to receive a summons to attend court in due course," the DTI said.

Mr Shepherd is a trader who used to telephone the Mirror with information for the City Slickers column. Mr Hipwell says he has never met Mr Shepherd, although he used to speak to him and receive e-mails from him during his time writing the Mirror column.

The DTI launched its investigation into the share-dealing scandal in May 2000, after Mr Hipwell and Mr Bhoyrul were sacked for "gross misconduct".

The pair lost their jobs in February 2000 after the Press Complaints Commission found they had personally profited by buying shares before tipping them in their pages. The PCC said Mr Hipwell had done this on 25 occasions and Mr Bhoyrul on 16. The watchdog found there had been "flagrant, multiple breaches of the code over a sustained period of time" and its then-chairman Lord Wakeham said there was a "clear climate of slack" at the Mirror.

Suspicion also fell on Mr Morgan, who had bought £20,000 worth of shares in the computer company Viglen the day before it was tipped in the column, but his bosses at Trinity Mirror signed a declaration of faith, insisting he was not guilty of wrongdoing.

Mr Morgan and others investigated by the inquiry have been completely exonerated by the investigation.

"I have today been notified by the DTI that I have been completely cleared of any wrongdoing in respect of the City Slickers affair," Mr Morgan said.

"I co-operated fully with the DTI during this painstaking four-year investigation and always believed that my name would be cleared - and indeed it now has. I may be unemployed, but I am not a crook."

Sources close to the former Mirror editor said the whole experience had been "harrowing" for him. Mr Morgan is believed to have been interviewed several times by the DTI during the course of the four-year investigation. Friends of the former Mirror editor said the fact that the DTI's decision came after his sacking proved he had not simply been cleared because he was the editor of a Labour-backing newspaper.

Mr Hipwell, who was on holiday on the Greek island of Ithaca yesterday when he heard about the DTI's announcement, said he has never been interviewed during the investigation.

"As far as I'm concerned, I was just doing my job," said Mr Hipwell, who now edits a gambling magazine, Inside Edge, for Dennis Publishing.

"My brief from Piers Morgan was to create a column which readers of a tabloid newspaper would want to read and to make the City, the Square Mile, an exciting place for tabloid readers. That included writing about companies and getting people to invest in companies. It was a bull market, the like of which had not been seen since the 1920s. It seems incredible that this is still going on four years later. I've never been interviewed by them [the DTI], so I'm especially surprised to hear from them now.

"The real scandal is how much money the DTI has spent on the investigation and all they can come up with is this seedy little charge of share ramping."

It is believed that Mr Bhoyrul was interviewed as part of the inquiry.

The DTI statement said: "Following the criminal investigation into share dealing connected to the City Slickers column of the Daily Mirror, and having considered the evidence and advice from leading and junior counsel, the department's prosecution branch has sent informations to Thames magistrates' court alleging that Anil Bhoyrul, James Hipwell and Terry Shepherd, between August 1 1999 and February 29 2000, conspired to commit an offence contrary to section 47(2) of the Financial Services Act 1986, by creating a misleading impression as to the value of investments, for the purpose of creating that impression and of thereby inducing other persons to acquire those investments, by using the City Slickers column in the Daily Mirror to tip those investments."

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