Saunders case goes to European court

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The former chairman of Guinness Ernest Saunders took his legal battle with the English legal system into its 10th year yesterday when the European Court of Human Rights began hearing his latest appeal.

The Strasbourg hearing was barely two months after the Court of Appeal in London rejected Saunders's attempt to clear his name. His counsel yesterday, Michael Beloff QC, claimed that denying Saunders his "right to silence" when he was under investigation by Department of Trade and Industry inspectors meant the court proceedings which followed had resulted in "unfairness".

If Saunders wins, the Government face paying millions of pounds in compensation.

Saunders was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 1990. Along with three others - Jack Lyons, Gerald Ronson and Anthony Parnes - he was convicted on charges of theft, conspiracy and false accounting relating to Guinness's pounds 2.7bn takeover of Distillers in 1986.

Saunders's term was reduced to two years in 1991 by the Court of Appeal. He was released from open prison after serving only 10 months when he was diagnosed as having having pre-senile dementia.

The Strasbourg court will deliver its judgment at a later date.