How one arms scandal led to another

ORDTECH AFFAIR: Weapons to Iraq: Collapse of Matrix Churchill trial prompted four businessmen to lodge appeal over withheld documents
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DAVID HELLIER

It was the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial in November 1992, and the release of previously undisclosed documents to the defendants, which persuaded the four businessmen in the Ordtech arms-to-Iraq case to lodge their appeals.

"At the end of the trial we assumed that was it," Paul Grecian said, "that we couldn't do anything about convictions after pleading guilty. But when the Matrix Churchill trial collapsed the possibility was raised of going for an appeal."

The four businessmen were found guilty on charges of exporting to Iraq an assembly line for making fuses for long-range artillery shells. The export was deemed to be in breach of the Export Control Act.

Sentences for three of the men ranged from six to eighteen months, all suspended. The fourth man, responsible for the shipping of the equipment, was fined pounds 1,000. His firm, EC Transport, had its licence for exporting defence equipment withdrawn as a result of its involvement in the affair.

The case held remarkable similarities with the Matrix Churchill trial but also a key difference. In both, defendants were denied access ahead of the trial to documents they believed relevant to their defence. The striking difference was that whereas the judge in the Matrix Churchill case eventually saw a need for those documents to be presented, the judge in the Ordtech case did not.

It is still unclear why the documents that now appear to be so relevant were never shown to the defence at the original trial. Andrew Collins, the prosecutor - now a High Court judge - assured the judge at Reading Crown Court that after looking at documents made available to him by the Department of Trade and Industry, and having taken advice from a senior Customs official, he was assured that there were no documents of relevance to the defence.

"Had Mr Collins been shown the documents we have seen he could not possibly have said what he did," the Lord Chief Justice said yesterday. He refused to speculate as to why the documents were not disclosed, noting that the whole issue was within the remit of the Scott inquiry, which now hopes to publish its long-awaited report into the arms-to-Iraq affair early in the new year.

Even if Mr Collins had decided that there were relevant documents, he had warned the defendants' counsel at the Reading trial that there were public-interest immunity certificates signed by Peter Lilley and Kenneth Baker which could have led to their suppression.

The appeal process has been a long and hard one and it was only in July of this year, more than three years after the original trial, that the appellants were granted access to hundreds of documents denied them at Reading Crown Court in 1992. In July, in spite of the fact that Michael Howard and Douglas Hurd had signed new public- interest immunity certificates, the defendants received hundreds of documents, from the intelligence services, from the Ministry of Defence, from the Foreign Office and from the Scott inquiry. Many were given to them in abbreviated form because they were affected by public-interest immunity certificates.

The defence case, once these documents materialised, was clear. They showed that Paul Grecian, the man who set Ordtech up, was an invaluable informant to the security services.

They also contradicted a witness statement from the Reading trial which indicated that Mr Grecian only had two meetings with his Special Branch contact and that on neither occasion had he discussed his defence involvement with the Iraqis.

The defence argued that Mr Grecian could not possibly have had access to the kinds of thing he did, such as the first inkling of the Iraqi "supergun" project, without being involved in selling defence equipment to Iraq. Mr Grecian said his security service meetings began each time with a project update; therefore the Government must have known what he was doing.

The defence also argued the documents showed that, while the Government officially maintained the stance that it was not sanctioning the export of offensive weaponry to Iraq, everyone in the government machine knew that a "blind eye" would be turned and the equipment would go through unimpeded if it were sent through Jordan. The defence argued that, had their clients received at the Reading trial the documents they now had, their solicitors and barristers would have advised them differently - not to plead guilty.

"The more that's come out in the past couple of years about the way some people have tried to block our efforts to defend ourselves has been very hard to take," Mr Grecian said yesterday.

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