Saunders may get millions

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The Independent Online
ERNEST SAUNDERS and the other members of the Guinness Four could be awarded several million in compensation if Saunders wins the final step in the battle to clear his name at the European Court of Human Rights.

Saunders would automatically be entitled to any legal expenses that he has accrued fighting the Guinness case. Leading lawyers also say that he would get compensation for the stress that he underwent during his trial and imprisonment, which led to a sharp deterioration in health.

More controversially, he may be entitled to a further payment to compensate him for loss of earnings and damage to his name. Today he works as a marketing consultant to Carphone Warehouse, the London mobile phone company.

If the European Court supports last week's opinion of the Human Rights Commission that Saunders was 'deprived of a fair hearing' when he was tried for his part in the Guinness affair in 1990, the other three in the dock with him could also pick up large cheques.

'Saunders would almost certainly qualify for non-pecuniary loss relating to stress and hurt feelings caused by the trial. Here, the court (European Court of Human Rights) is fairly conservative in their awards,' said Luke Clements, an expert on European human rights law at the Hereford solicitors, Thorpes. He added: 'If Saunders can show that he suffered a loss of employment income and reputation as a direct result of the case he will be entitled to further compensation. Theoretically, the sky would be the limit.'

Typically, the European Court awards non-pecuniary damages of between pounds 20,000 and pounds 80,000 for the stesses and illness relating to an unfair trial. Saunders' compensation would probably be at the top end of the range.

For his financial losses, Saunders' claim could run into millions. At the time of the start of the investigation in November 1987, he was earning a salary of pounds 375,000 as chairman of Guinness. Anthony Greener, the current incumbent, earned pounds 648,000 last year. 'We haven't really thought about compensation,' said George Devlin, who is acting as Saunders' agent. 'For the time being, we are concentrating on clearing his name. But his claim for legal costs could run over pounds 1m. '

The key to Saunders winning huge compensation will be satisfying the European Court that his name was not already damaged by the Department of Trade and Indutry report into the Guinness affair, and the decision by the Guinness board to fire him as chief executive. Both events took place before the trial, so could limit the court's liability.

But Saunders might then have claims against the DTI and his former employer.

Saunders' co-defendants - the businessman Gerald Ronson, the former stockbroker Anthony Parnes and the previously knighted Jack Lyons - would be entitled to similar treatment, including full legal compensation and any further non-pecuniary awards.

Lord Spens, who was tried in a separate Guinness trial which later collapsed, said: 'Happily the first trial (involving Saunders) is also collapsing. I would have thought that Saunders would be entitled to large compensation payments. It was always a political trial.'

As the Commission found 14-1 in Mr Saunders's favour, the European Court is almost certain to confirm that verdict - which has, in any case, been replicated by a House of Lords judgment in July.

That confirmed that it was no longer acceptable for criminal prosecutors to use evidence obtained under compulsion as part of a DTI investigation.

Analysis, page 3

(Photograph omitted)

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