Adjusting to life after residence at the Savoy: Mary Braid reports on the mixed fortunes of the four lead characters in the Guinness share-rigging case since they were convicted

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THOSE WHO had trouble digesting former Guinness chairman Ernest Saunders' remarkable recovery from pre-senile dementia, may also find his bid to have his fraud conviction quashed in the European Court of Human Rights a little hard to swallow.

When Mr Saunders, now 58, and three other prominent City figures - Gerald Ronson, Anthony Parnes and Jack Lyons - were convicted for their part in the Guinness share-rigging scandal in 1990, their sentences - some were reduced on appeal - were served at Ford Open Prison - nicknamed the Savoy of Prisons.

Mr Saunders' success at the European Commission comes after his extraordinary recovery from the debilitating 'dementia' symptoms - which led to his early release from Ford Open Prison, only 10 months into a five-year sentence. Mr Saunders now says his symptoms must have been the result of anti-depressant drugs.

If the court eventually rules in Mr Saunders' favour, the Government may have to pay him compensation.

Mr Saunders, who turned Guinness into a major success in the early 1980s, was earning pounds 375,000 a year when the scandal broke. He recently received pounds 150,000 from Guinness as part of a pension deal and he still manages to jet between business concerns in London and Switzerland but it is unlikely that he will chair a public company again. Today he is marketing consultant of a portable telephone company.

Mr Ronson, Mr Parnes and Mr Lyons are said to be considering their positions following the ruling. They too could argue for sizeable compensation.

Prison may have cost Mr Ronson the pounds 10m yacht, the pounds 4m private jet and the helicopter but he appears to have handled his convictions for theft, false accounting and conspiracy, with most ease. He seemed to adjust best to prison life, getting around the grounds on a bicyle, doing errands for the prison governor and running business leadership classes for fellow inmates. Four months after release, Ronson, once rated the 16th richest man in Britain and one of its most philanthropic, was back on the charity circuit, shaking hands with the Queen Mother.

But Heron International, the huge property company Ronson built up from a small family business, is in serious financial trouble. Yesterday a group of American finaciers made a bid for Heron which would mean Ronson reliquishing his role as chief executive to become executive director of the new company.

While Ronson retained his social status, Mr Lyons, now 78, saved from prison by ill health, was stripped of his knighthood and finded pounds 3m. Convicted of theft, false accounting and conspiracy, Lyons's reputation was destroyed. He sold his pounds 3m London home and retired with his wife to Florida. In 1992 Lyons accepted substantial undisclosed libel damages over insinuations in a tabloid newspaper that he faked illness to avoid being sent to prison.

Of the four, Anthony Parnes, nicknamed 'the Animal' by City associates, may have suffered most. He left Ford in July 1992 after serving 11 months of a 30-month sentence for theft and false accounting. He had already spent six months in Terminal Island jail in Los Angeles fighting extradition from the States. His marriage broke up and he was expelled by the Stock Exchange. Having traded his pounds 3.3m home in Hampstead, north London, for a 'small' flat in central London, Parnes, once worth pounds 10m, says he is now penniless.

(Photographs omitted)