Illness delays start of arms-to-Iraq appeal

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An appeal hearing which has been compared to the Matrix Churchill case and is likely to expose government complicity in the illegal arms trade has been postponed until the autumn.

Appellants and their lawyers were told yesterday morning as they prepared to attend court that the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor, who presided over preliminary hearings, was unable to attend the the Court of Appeal. His office said that his wife had been taken seriously ill.

The appeal of four businessmen connected with Ordtec, a Reading-based defence company, has provoked controversy. Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, and Douglas Hurd, when he was Foreign Secretary, imposed Public Interest Immunity certificates asking the court not to disclose certain information to the appellants on the grounds of national security and foreign policy. In a hearing last week, Lord Taylor allowed disclosure of a small part of the information.

The businessmen - Paul Grecian, Bryan Mason, Stuart Blackledge and Colin Phillips - were convicted in 1992 at Reading Crown Court for breaching arms export controls by shipping military equipment to Iraq in the late 1980s. They pleaded guilty after documents which they claimed would show that the police and secret services were aware of their business were withheld from their defence.

Their trial took place six months before the Matrix Churchill prosecution in which three executives were acquitted of sanctions-busting after another court ordered disclosure of sensitive documents. Many of them would have been relevant to the Ordtec defence. The Matrix Churchill acquittals led to the formation of the Scott inquiry into arms-to-Iraq. Sir Richard Scott is also considering the Ordtec case.