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Guinness Four case will test legal skills

The legal profession's numeracy skills will need dusting down if the convictions of the "Guinness Four" are quashed.

Compensation claims of telephone number proportions could be lodged by lawyers if Ernest Saunders, Gerald Ronson, Anthony Parnes and Jack Lyons emerge victorious after their Court of Appeal case.

A total claim from the four men running into hundreds of millions of pounds is far from being fantasy material. They were extremely successful men, and will have many axes to grind which will keep lawyers and the courts busy for years.

What price for Jack Lyons' knighthood? Will Gerald Ronson claim that the Guinness affair was responsible for bringing his Heron empire to its knees? What compensation will Ernest Saunders seek from losing control of one of the biggest drinks companies inthe world? And what redress will Tony Parnes want for the abrupt end to his promising City career?

Claims for loss of liberty by three of the men will be peripheral when set against these much wider issues.

A taste of what is to come is currently being provided by Thomas Ward and Lord Spens who were acquitted in subsequent Guinness trials.

Mr Ward, the American lawyer who advised Mr Saunders in Guinness's £2.7bn takeover of Distillers, last year issued several writs from his base in California. He is suing "a whole host of people involved in the deal", as well as Guinness for £57m.

Guinness in turn is taking legal action to recover the £5.2m fees paid by the company to him during the Distillers takeover. He has paid a small amount, but, according to Guinness's last calculations, he still owes £9m when accrued interest is taken intoaccount.

The complexity of the legal issues will go on to another plain in the New Year, when Lord Spens's lawyers will exchange documents with opponents from Freshfields, the City law firm which is defending his claim against the Bank of England.

Lord Spens, acquitted when the second Guinness trial collapsed due to the ill-health of his co-defendant, Roger Seelig, is claiming damages for alleged pressure by the Bank to end his employment as a director at Henry Ansbacher, the merchant bank, in 1987.

While the English legal system has still yet to get to grips with these claims some eight years after the Guinness scandal hit the headlines, the Americans have demonstrated how swift, and how punishing they can be with such cases. - particularly with Ivan Boesky, the American arbitrageur who exposed the whole Guinness affair.

Mr Boesky has never recovered his reputation after doing a stint in jail, and paying hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and compensation for his Guinness role and a host of separate insider dealing scams.

In return for taking part in the share support operation, it was agreed that Guinness would invest $100m in one of his arbitrage funds. Whatever persuaded Mr Ward and Mr Saunders to sanction the investment, it was to prove one of the most momentous decisions of their lives.

Jack Lyons, 78, was fined £3m, stripped of his knighthood, and saved from prison only by age and ill-health.

During the Distillers takeover, he recruited people to buy Guinness shares; he also bought some himself. He received a £3m fee, but returned two-thirds of it. He was convicted of theft, false accounting and conspiracy.

Anthony Parnes, a former stockbroker, was known in the City as "the Animal" because of his trading tactics.

Of the four defendants he has probably fared the worst. He left Ford in July 1992 after serving 11 months. He had already spent six months Los Angeles jail.His marriage broke up, and he was expelled by the Stock Exchange.

Gerald Ronson was convicted of theft, false accounting and conspiracy, and lost his £10m yacht and £4m private jet.

He seemed to adjust best to his six months in prison, touring the grounds on a bicycle, doing errands for the prison governor and running business leadership classes for fellow inmates.

Ernest Saunders, now 58, had been earning £375,000 a year when the scandal broke. He was jailed for five years after being found guilty of playing a central role in the illegal operation to support shares during the bid for Distillers. He served 10 months after his lawyers said a long sentence would have aggravated pre-senile dementia.