This lady in distress, and a sympathetic judge, saved Kevin Maxwell yesterday

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The Independent Online
Pandora Maxwell, a resolute and determined woman who impressed a High Court judge with her account of living under the shadow of lengthy criminal trials, yesterday emerged as one of the chief reasons why charges against her husband Kevin were dropped.

She had told Mr Justice Buckley in private pre-trial hearings how her family had been affected by the scandal of the collapse of the pounds 2bn Maxwell empire, the subsequent trial of her husband and the threat of a second trial, which was finally lifted yesterday.

The judge said: "Mrs Maxwell's bewilderment and anger at the decision to proceed to another trial were not feigned. I cannot be over-influenced by such matters but no one could have been unmoved by her evidence."

He added: "Her obvious distress was, I am convinced, entirely genuine. She described the agony of the trial and the days waiting for the verdict with the prospect of significant prison sentence in the balance.

"I have reached a very clear view that these proceedings serve no further public interest. To pursue them in the face of the jury's unanimous verdict in the first trial would test both the public's confidence and the integrity of the system."

But the judge's decision to record not-guilty verdicts on Mr Maxwell and his fellow defendants leaves a large question over what caused the enormous hole in the Maxwell company pension funds after Robert Maxwell fell off his yacht in November 1991.

Kevin Maxwell, 37, a father of six, last night celebrated the end of criminal proceedings which followed the later collapse of the Maxwell media empire. Ian Maxwell, sitting beside his younger brother in a crowded court room, punched him with glee as the judge revealed his decision.

Kevin Maxwell said: "It is a victory for common sense and humanity. My other reaction is immense relief that the jury's decision in the first trial - the acquittal of all the defendants - now counts for something ... I'm very relieved to be going a home an innocent man."

After a 131-day trial, the two brothers and Larry Trachtenberg, a Maxwell executive, were found not guilty of defrauding pension funds. Days after that verdict, the Serious Fraud Office said it would proceed with different charges against Kevin, Mr Trachtenberg and two other former Maxwell executives, Albert Fuller and Michael Stoney.

The judge said the SFO had already tried Mr Maxwell on its strongest charges and that allowing a second trial would make it seem the jury was not trusted. The second trial, involving a fraud against banks, was not as important. "Broadly speaking, if any jury was going to convict in this case, surely it would have been on the pension counts," he said.

The SFO was unrepentant about its decision to pursue the second trial. It believed it would not have been in the public interest to let a pounds 100m alleged bank fraud escape prosecution.

The Department of Trade and Industry said the scrapping of the trial cleared the way for inspectors to continue investigations into the flotation of Mirror Group Newspapers in 1991, "with a view to publication" of their report .