MPs call for judicial inquiry into Levitt affair

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The Independent Online
There will be calls in the House of Commons today for the resignation of George Staple, director of the Serious Fraud Office, and for a full judicial inquiry into the Levitt affair.

Mike O'Brien, Labour MP for Warwickshire North and John Marshall, Tory MP for Hendon South, are to demand the departure of Mr Staple following revelations that Parliament was misled over plea bargaining in the run- up to the 1993 trial of Roger Levitt, the failed investment adviser, who received an unexpectedly lenient sentence.

The SFO and the Government admitted recently that answers to questions in late 1993 from Mr Marshall on the Levitt affair did not give an accurate picture of events. These original answers, denying Crown involvement in plea bargaining and any prior understanding that Levitt would get such a light sentence, were drafted and cleared by David Cocks, the senior prosecution counsel. Mr Marshall said he would also call today for Mr Cocks to be blacklisted at the Bar because of professional misconduct.

"I fear that the SFO and the prosecuting authorities sought to deceive the Attorney General [Sir Nicholas Lyell] and led him unwittingly to mislead the House of Commons. They did so in order to cover up their involvement in the complete bungling of the Levitt prosecution, and George Staple owes it to the country to resign forthwith," Mr Marshall said.

The calls in the House come as at least six eminent members of the British legal profession, none of them involved in the Levitt case, have written to MPs on the Treasury and Civil Service Committee expressing grave concern that the misleading answers to Parliament were cleared by Mr Cocks. The letters raise the prospect of a formal complaint to the Bar Council of professional misconduct against Mr Cocks, a leading criminal QC.

Having originally faced 62 charges of theft, fraud and deception, and allegedly misappropriating pounds 59m, Levitt's sentence in November 1993 to just 180 hours' community service provoked an outcry, and speculation of secret deals. On advice from the SFO and Mr Cocks, the Attorney General denied at the time any deals had been done, a position substantially revised in the latest answers to the House. In his latest appearance before the Treasury committee, Mr Staple was accused of lying to cover up the prosecution's embarrassment over Levitt.

Mr O'Brien, a member of the Treasury committee, said yesterday: "We need an inquiry into what happened and George Staple must go. Parliament has been misled; incompetence in the prosecution has been exposed. The public can have little confidence in the Serious Fraud Office's ability to deal with crime, and it is clear that the handling of the Levitt case requires urgent judicial investigation.

Quentin Davies, a Conservative member of the Treasury committee, said: "The facts that have now emerged are that Mr Cocks misled the SFO, the SFO thus misled the Attorney General and the Attorney General thus inadvertently misled Parliament. I have to say this is an extremely regrettable state of affairs."