Slicker Hipwell gets six months for 'Mirror' scam

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The Independent Online

James Hipwell, the former Daily Mirror business journalist who was convicted of market abuse in December, was handed a six-month prison sentence yesterday, escaping a longer stint in jail due to ill health.

He will now spend a maximum of three months in jail, with the remaining three months served as a suspended sentence. However, he could be released from prison in as little as six weeks, if he is deemed suitable for the criminal-tagging programme. This would see him spend the second half of his three-month prison term under curfew at home.

Three weeks ago, Mr Justice Beatson, who oversaw the eight-week London trial, agreed to postpone Hipwell's sentencing due to an eleventh-hour medical report from his doctor, which said his patient needed a series of urgent medical tests.

Hipwell suffered from kidney failure shortly after losing his job at The Daily Mirror six years ago, and eventually received a transplant from his brother. However, a deterioration in his transplanted kidney in recent weeks required an urgent biopsy to determine the severity of the deterioration. The results of the tests showed that his transplanted kidney was not being rejected, as feared. However, in an updated medical report to the court, his consultant, Professor Cunningham, said that the transplanted kidney was only expected to be good for another three to six years, after which Hipwell would have to return to dialysis.

The report also said Hipwell's life expectancy would be reduced to between a third and a half of the 40 years which a healthy 40-year-old man can expect to live today.

Handing down his sentence at Luton Crown Court yesterday, Mr Justice Beatson said he had taken account of Hipwell's medical condition, stressing that he would have imposed a longer prison term had it not been for his poor health. "However, not withstanding what has been said on your behalf... I am still of the view that only a custodial sentence can be justified," he said.

Hipwell and his former colleague, Anil Bhoyrul, were convicted of conspiring to create a misleading value as to the impression of investments, by trading in shares which they tipped in the Mirror's City Slickers column between August 1999 and January 2000. Hipwell made a profit of around £41,000 from his share dealing, while Bhoyrul made around £15,000.

Bhoyrul, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 180 hours of community service. Terry Shepherd, a day trader who was in close contact with the pair and who was also convicted on the same charge, was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

In a statement handed to the press by his lawyer yesterday, Hipwell once again defended the accuracy of his share tips, stressing that he never intended to mislead his readers. "I accept it was an error of judgement not to disclose that I had bought shares I tipped, and for that I apologise unreservedly," he said.

"However, I always believed - and the evidence at the trial proved - that the [Slickers] column was accurate and investors that followed it did make a profit. I did not intend to mislead, and I bought shares openly in my own name and from my own bank account. This investigation has hung over me for six years, during which time I became seriously ill.

"I needed a kidney transplant, and my brother Tom donated one of his to save my life.

"That puts everything that has happened to me in relation to my life at The Mirror into perspective. I am actually relieved to be nearing the end of this episode and look forward to when I can get on with the rest of my life."

Hipwell is now planning to appeal against his conviction, and is also considering an appeal against his sentence.

Lenient treatment for sickly accused

* ERNEST SAUNDERS The former chief executive of Guinness, who was convicted of false accounting, conspiracy to defraud and theft in 1991, served just 10 months of a five-year jail term due to ill health. He later admitted that his diagnosis of pre-senile dementia, similar to Alzheimer's disease, was wrong.

* JACK LYONS The former City financier, who was also convicted for his part in the Guinness affair, escaped prison altogether due to poor health. Instead, he was hit with a £3m fine. He has since suffered three heart attacks and has been operated on for cancer. However, he has so far failed in his numerous attempts to clear his name.

* ROGER SEELIG The corporate banker, who advised Guinness at the time of the Distillers scandal, saw his trial abandoned after it was deemed he was not mentally fit to defend himself. Months before the start of the trial, Seelig's co-defendant, Lord Spens, suffered a heart attack. After the trial collapsed, charges against Spens were also dropped.

* PETER YOUNG The former Morgan Grenfell fund manager, who was found guilty of fraud three years ago, escaped any punishment due to his mental state. After changing his sex and attending the early hearings dressed as a woman, Young was reputed to have later attempted self-mutilation. He was deemed unfit to stand trial.