The all-party social security committee has recently cancelled a series of public hearings in which it had planned to take evidence on the Maxwell pensions scandal.
In a special progress report, the select committee explained that it had taken the advice of the Serious Fraud Office and suspended all future hearings at which public evidence would have been taken from witnesses in legal proceedings, possibly until all action had cleared the courts.
The MPs said they had considered taking evidence in private, which would have been protected from publicity by the threat of proceedings for contempt of Parliament, but ruled it out because it could have opened the way to 'deliberately contrived' rumour and speculation, designed to affect legal proceedings.
Underlining that point, the report added that the committee had noted publicity from other, unidentified sources, 'which it believes has been intended to influence those proceedings, favourably to the defendants'. Because any explanation of that sentence - or identification of the defendants the MPs had in mind - would create the same potential assistance for Maxwell pensions fraud defendants, the report did not spell it out further, and members of the committee were unable to comment.
Cases relating to the fraud have already excited considerable publicity, and it will undoubtedly be argued that the defendants' chances of fair trial have thereby been prejudiced.
Yesterday's report said: 'In the light of the representations from the Serious Fraud Office and because of the House's own sub judice resolution, we believe that it is right for the committee not to examine any of those witnesses who are going to be called to give evidence in the impending criminal and civil proceedings.'Reuse content