Stockbroker and clients free after 'insider' case collapses: Key witness too ill to travel from US to give evidence

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A STOCKBROKER, with two clients to whom he was alleged to have passed insider information, walked free from the Old Bailey yesterday after the case against them collapsed because a key witness was too ill to travel from the US to give evidence.

When the trial began last week, Edmund Lawson QC, for the prosecution, claimed that Alton Byrd, an account manager with the City stockbroker Svenska & Co and a former British international basketball player, passed on price-sensitive unpublished information to clients including Roger Wilcoke, company director, and Graham Shear, solicitor.

Mr Lawson said Vincent Donohoe, a director of the USM-traded International Media Communications, told Mr Byrd in 1990 that new capital was coming into the company.

This information, if true, was likely to push up IMC's share price, which had slumped from 25p to 5p or 6p. Mr Lawson alleged the American-born Mr Byrd passed on this information to his clients, and that on his tip Mr Wilcoke and Mr Shear bought shares.

The prosecution had claimed all three must have been aware they were acting on insider information and contravening the law.

But after days of legal argument, Mr Lawson yesterday offered no evidence against the three after Judge Ann Goddard ruled it would be unfair to go ahead because Mr Donohoe, the main prosecution witness, was unavailable to be cross-examined. He is understood to be in the US and could not come to London because he is ill.

The collapse of the case is another embarrassment for the Department of Trade and Industry whose record of obtaining convictions for insider dealing after investigations has been poor. This has led to the Treasury, which has now taken charge of financial regulation, proposing changes to the insider dealing laws which are currently being debated in the House of Commons.

The Labour Party will today press for the new body to be set up to investigate City crime.