Hinchliffe case to be referred after 'unduly lenient' verdict

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The Independent Online

The case of Stephen Hinchliffe, former chairman of the collapsed Facia retail group who was set free after admitting defrauding his company, has been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General.

The Serious Fraud Office confirmed that Lord Goldsmith had taken action on the grounds that the suspended sentence given to the businessman was "unduly lenient".

Hinchliffe, of Dore, Sheffield, was given a 15-month sentence suspended for two years by Old Bailey Judge Jeremy Roberts last month. The SFO said at the time that it would appeal against the ruling which it regarded as "inappropriate".

The judge had indicated he would give a non-custodial sentence if Hinchliffe and a co-defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud Facia.

The remaining 20 charges were not proceeded with, saving an estimated £10m cost of a trial. It is not known when the appeal will be heard but the SFO indicated that it believed the trial costs would be less than the £10m figure previously indicated.

The judge said Hinchliffe had already served part of a five year jail sentence for his part in the £100m collapse of the high street chain of accessory shops in 1996. He said this sentence would have served as a sufficient deterrent to other business people who might consider fraudulent practices.

The Facia group was set up in 1994 via the acquisition of a series of loss-making retailers. At its peak it consisted of 850 shops and had 8,000 employees. Its businesses included Red or Dead, Salisbury's, Sock Shop, and Freeman Hardy Willis.

Hinchliffe was declared bankrupt in March 2001 and has also been disqualified from acting as a director for 12 years.

His former finance director Christopher Harrison, was given a six month suspended sentence last month and banned from serving as a director for eight years.