Tearful Walker rushes from court

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GEORGE WALKER rushed from court in tears yesterday after telling a jury how he ploughed every penny his family possessed into his ailing leisure empire.

He said the rescue bid for Brent Walker almost four years ago was prompted by a clean bill of legal health following a Serious Fraud Office investigation into the group's film division.

Mr Walker told Southwark Crown Court that after the SFO inquiry - followed by another that led to the charges he now faces - he and family members felt they had the green light to put in pounds 30m of their own money towards the rescue bid.

Further sums, including pounds 5m from Lonrho, came from business contacts and friends as they edged towards the pounds 100m required to qualify for further bank support.

'Every penny we had went into keeping that company alive - work money, boxing money, dividend money, everything,' Mr Walker told the court.

'And now I stand here accused of . . .' At this point, he stopped, trying to fight back tears. His voice cracking with emotion, he told Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC: 'I have got to have a break, if you don't mind.' Mr Walker, 65, then rushed from court, followed by one of his daughters, also in tears.

The court rose while Mr Walker regained his composure.

The former chairman and chief executive of Brent Walker and 41- year-old Wilfred Aquilina, the group's former finance director, deny two joint charges of false accounting, one of theft, and one of conspiracy to falsify accounts.

Mr Walker is also accused of three theft charges, and Mr Aquilina of one false accounting charge.

Mr Walker, in the witness box for the fifth day, told the court that some time after the group's largest takeover - the pounds 685m purchase of the betting chain William Hill in 1989 - Brent Walker found itself short of funds. British banks said that before it could qualify for support Mr Walker 'personally' would have to raise pounds 100m.

One hiccup was the SFO's investigation into the company. Representations were made to Barbara Mills, the SFO head, who sent Mr Walker a letter saying the SFO had halted the investigation. He immediately started to raise the money he needed.

Mr Walker later spoke of his last months in the organisation he had spent 35 years building up. He said that after he had raised the money the banks had asked for, they imposed further conditions for continued support.

Eventually on 12 January 1991, he was removed as chairman. Three months later, he was also fired as chief executive.

The court rose early after the judge accepted an adjournment application on the grounds that Mr Walker was very tired.