Parliament: Home Affairs: Police pay four men record pounds 10m damages

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FOUR MEN who accused the police of malicious prosecution have received pounds 10.6m damages and costs in the most expensive case brought against a force.

The four businessmen claimed that Greater Manchester Police deliberately tried to prosecute them for fraud as a means of discrediting John Stalker, the former deputy chief constable of the force. Mr Stalker, a friend of one of the businessmen, had been conducting an inquiry into allegations of a police "shoot-to-kill" policy in Ulster, but as a result of the allegations he was removed from the inquiry.

A committee of MPs yesterday highlighted the "enormous" pay-out to the four men, which until today had a gagging clause imposed on it, and called for greater openness in cases.

The Commons Home Affairs Select Committee criticised the police for unnecessary secrecy in hiding the amounts of their increasingly common civil claims for damages. It recommended that, in future, cases should only remain "gagged" under exceptional circumstances and that "disclosure becomes the standard practice".

The Home Office and police chiefs will now consider the recommendations.

The Stalker case was given as an example of the secrecy used by the police in many civil settlements, including pay-outs in cases involving sexual harassment allegations.

The civil action involved Kevin Taylor, a property developer of Baxenden, Lancashire, who was prosecuted in 1990 for allegedly defrauding the Co- operative Bank of pounds 200,000. The case collapsed amid claims that the police had fabricated evidence. Mr Taylor, who came under investigation by a unit set up by the then Chief Constable, Sir James Anderton, claimed there had been a high-level conspiracy to have his friend Mr Stalker removed from the Ulster inquiry. The police have always denied there was any such conspiracy.

Mr Taylor, whose business had collapsed, settled a civil claim in 1995, but the details were kept secret. He is believed to have received more than pounds 2m in damages, although police denied liability.

Three of Mr Taylor's colleagues, Derek Britton, an accountant, Vincent McCann, a quantity surveyor, and Terence Bowley, a former bank manager, also claimed damages for malicious prosecution.

Two of the cases are still on-going and the pounds 10.6m cost is expected to rise significantly.