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SFO director accused of contempt of court

George Staple, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, and four senior members of his staff were accused of contempt of court in the High Court yesterday over their conduct during the SFO's investigation into the Sumitomo copper dealing affair.

The charges were brought by Kay Accounting, an accountancy firm whose offices in Radlett, Hertfordshire, were raided by the SFO in December.

The SFO seized six computers and downloaded them to copy stored information as part of their investigation into alleged manipulation of the copper trading market.

But Alun Jones QC, representing Kay Accounting, said in the High Court that the SFO had ignored the orders of two High Court judges who had granted injunctions to Jeffrey Green, head of the Hertfordshire accounting firm.

He said Mr Justice Nelson had ordered the SFO to cease downloading the computers until a hearing before Mr Justice Tucker on 10 December.

Mr Jones said the downloading continued up to six hours after the order was made and no disclosure was made to Mr Justice Tucker. He allowed downloading to continue but the information was to be sealed and the computers returned.

Lord Justice Staughton and Mr Justice Scott Baker are hearing proceedings against Mr Staple and Andrew Jackson, Anne Dilks, Christopher Walker and Michael Hainey ahead of an attempt by Mr Green to have the original search warrants declared unlawful.

He is claiming they were granted by City of London Magistrates because the police and SFO did not tell them that Kay Accounting was a reputable firm and Mr Green a man of good character. Mr Green was never under investigation as part of the Sumitomo investigation.

Edwin Glasgow QC, for the SFO, said that they had tried to comply with the injunctions as soon as possible. The downloading of the computers was carried out automatically in a locked room and when the order was received, the staff had left the office for the weekend.

Mr Glasgow said that as soon as it was known that the judge's order was to discontinue further downloading, a fax was sent to Authentec, the firm where the copying was being done, ordering them to suspend work.