Another setback for Serious Fraud Office as trial collapses: Investigators passed confidential information to City law firm

THE SERIOUS Fraud Office faced fresh embarrassment last night after an Old Bailey judge ruled that three businessman facing charges of fraud had no case to answer. Labour renewed calls for the SFO to be replaced with a centralised body for prosecution of financial crimes. One MP described the present system as 'worse than useless'.

It was disclosed that SFO investigators working on the prosecution in yesterday's case passed confidential information to a City law firm. This is the third case within a month for which the SFO has been criticised . Last week, Roger Levitt, a financial adviser, was sentenced to 180 hours of community work after a plea bargain with the SFO. He pleaded guilty to one charge of fraudulent trading following the collapse of his pounds 150m company. Shortly before that, Terry Ramsden walked free after admitting a pounds 90m fraud.

The three men freed yesterday - an Australian financier, Malcolm Johnson, who was extradited from Vienna to stand trial; Mungo Park and Alex Dann - were charged with fraud and theft connected with the sale of shares in an allegedly phoney US company. The trial of two stockbrokers charged with involvement in the same share scheme collapsed earlier this year. It has emerged that SFO investigators passed information regarding Mr Johnson to Nicholas Brook, of the City law firm Clifford Chance. The information is contained in a file note which is in the possession of the Independent.

Before taking up his post as director of the SFO in March 1992, George Staple was head of litigation at Clifford Chance. The Serious Fraud Office refused to make any comment last night.

In court, Mr Johnson's barrister, Robert Marshall-Andrews QC, called for 'full details of the information passed between the SFO and Clifford Chance' to be made available. While the SFO was pursuing its investigation of Mr Johnson, Clifford Chance was bringing a civil action against him.

In the file note, dated 21 May 1992, Mr Brook writes that an associate of Mr Johnson's 'is regarded by the SFO as a 'minder' for Mr Johnson and may have been involved in at least one murder related to Johnson's business'. Mr Johnson said the SFO's suspicions were unfounded. Officials had no business sharing information with lawyers acting against him on an unrelated matter.

The disclosure is not the first breach of confidence by the SFO, nor the first time its activities have caused concern. An SFO lawyer was accused this year of forging a letter said to be signed by Sir David Steel, the former Liberal Democrat leader. He was told the letter was an 'April Fool'. Last year, an accountant on secondment to the SFO was jailed for trying to sell confidential documents.

These embarrassments follow a long and well-publicised series of imploding prosecutions: the second Guinness trial failed to secure any convictions, as did the year-long Blue Arrow trial.

The failures have been most widely noted, but the SFO has also had considerable success. It did bring Peter Clowes to book for robbing pounds 100m from his investors.

Alistair Darling, Labour's home affairs spokesman who has called for an urgent review of the activities of the SFO, said last night: 'We must have a new centralised body - not the SFO. The Government must recognise that the public are losing confidence in the system. If they don't, then the system is worse than useless.'

News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
News
Youngsters around the country living it up in des-res two-storey garden mansions with a balcony
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Extras
indybest
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal