Lyell dismisses calls for SFO chief to go

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Political Correspondent

Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, yesterday brushed aside calls in the Commons for the resignation of the director of the Serious Fraud Office. And he refused Labour demands for an independent inquiry into the Government's denial that it had struck a deal in the Levitt fraud case, but accepted that he had "corrected" his statement to the Commons about it.

In December 1993, Sir Nicholas denied that there had been a "plea bargain" which allowed Roger Levitt to walk free from the court after pleading guilty to a minor charge following the collapse of his investment company.

Following revelations in the Independent, it emerged that George Staple, the director of the Serious Fraud Office, had meetings with the Crown's barrister, David Cocks QC, before the trial began at which they discussed pleas from Levitt that might be acceptable. Mr Staple was forced to "revise" his evidence to the Treasury select committee last month when, after consulting his diaries, he "recalled" meetings with Mr Cocks which he denied had taken place.

The Attorney General said he did not think MPs were "being at all just to the director of the Serious Fraud Office", and added that an inquiry was not justified, partly because the lawyers in the case were in dispute with the Bar Council investigating their conduct.

Donald Anderson, Labour's legal affairs spokesman, said Sir Nicholas's answer was unsatisfactory and warned that "what he has said today will not end this matter".

Mike O'Brien, Labour MP for Warwickshire North, yesterday accused the Attorney General of hiding behind the Bar Council's drawn-out investigation, and wrote to the council yesterday drawing its attention to the seriousness of the case and asking it to speed up its inquiry. "The Bar Council has a duty to clean up the mess," he said.