UK red-faced as Saunders wins

European Court says Guinness boss convicted over Distillers battle was tried unfairly

The Serious Fraud Office yesterday pledged strongly to oppose any attempt by the former Guinness chief Ernest Saunders to get his fraud convictions quashed after the European Court of Human Rights ruled his trial had been unfair.

The Strasbourg judges said the prosecution's use of transcripts of interviews obtained under compulsion by Department of Trade and Industry inspectors investigating the 1986 Guinness takeover of Distillers broke Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which guarantees a right to a fair trial. Use of incriminating interviews was a "marked departure" from one of the basic principles of fair procedure.

While Britain's judge, Sir John Freeland, endorsed the judgment, the ruling is still a serious embarrassment to the Government, which sought to urge the court to interfere less in UK affairs and which wanted to close the door on the Guinness scandal.

Instead, the ruling has opened the way for Mr Saunders to ask the new Criminal Cases Review Commission to consider sending his case back to the Court of Appeal for what would be the third time.

The inspectors' report into the affair is also expected to be published. SFO investigative powers are less Draconian than those available to DTI inspectors under the 1985 Companies Act. But yesterday's decision could have far-reaching ramifications for other City legislation, including the 1986 Financial Services Act.

Mr Saunders was one of four convicted over an illegal share-support operation which secretly paid out pounds 25m in "success fees" and commissions in return for help in boosting the Guinness share price in the pounds 2.7bn battle for Distillers against the Argyll Group.

Statements obtained by the inspectors, David Donaldson QC and Ian Watt, were to form the cornerstone of the prosecutions for false accounting, theft and conspiracy and were used, the court said, to cast doubt on Mr Saunders's honesty and establish his involvement.

Exactly 10 years after the investigation began, a specially convened Grand Chamber of 20 judges ruled 16-4 that Article 6 protected the right to silence and the right of an individual not to incriminate himself. Whether or not the answers to the inspectors were directly incriminating, they had been used "in a manner which sought to incriminate" and it was no defence for the Government to invoke the public interest in investigating and punishing those responsible for complex corporate fraud.

There was some consolation for the Government, as the court rejected claims by Mr Saunders of pounds 3.6m in lost earnings and pounds 1m for "anxiety, anguish and imprisonment". They also cut his claim for legal costs and expenses from pounds 336,360 to pounds 75,000 after ruling the bulk of the fees had been unnecessarily incurred or were unreasonable. Mr Saunders, who can now command pounds 800 a day as a business consultant, told a news conference he would have been acquitted if the evidence discredited by the Strasbourg court had been ruled inadmissible, saying he now felt "innocent." Mr Saunders was heckled at the London news conference for not answering questions, instead reading out a statement and then referring queries to his adviser George Devlin, at his side. "This doctor's misdiagnosis is a matter for him," said Mr Devlin. "He is not the first doctor to be wrong. Mr Saunders is not a crook. What this is about is the integrity of legal proceedings in Britain."

Later, the former Guinness director walked out of a television interview when a reporter refused to confine himself to one, pre-arranged question and made repeated references to Mr Saunders' medical condition.

The Court of Appeal has twice rejected his challenges to his convictions, although on the first occasion it halved his jail sentence in the light of medical reports of some form of Alzheimer's-type disease.

The DTI and SFO seized on the fact that the court declined to speculate on whether the outcome of the trial would have been different had the transcripts not been used.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Scientists believe Mercury is coated in billions of years’ worth of carbon dust, after being ‘dumped on’ by passing comets
science
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£30,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a perso...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Payable Clerk

£21,000 - £24,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a new opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Regional Sales Manager - East Region - OTE £45,000

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Manager

£55,000 - £65,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a qualified accountant with ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor