Court condemns Blair for halting Saudi arms inquiry

Tony Blair's government broke the law when it abandoned a fraud investigation into a multibillion-pound arms deal between BAE Systems and Saudi Arabia, the High Court ruled yesterday.

Two senior judges condemned the Government's "abject" surrender to a "blatant" threat when the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) halted its inquiry into allegations that BAE had made secret payments to Saudi officials in order to secure a series of massive contracts. BAE has always denied any wrongdoing.

Calling on Gordon Brown to hold a public inquiry into the affair, jubilant campaigners demanded the fraud investigation into the £50bn Al-Yamamah deal to sell Tornado and Hawk jets to the Saudis be restarted.

Mr Blair faced controversy in December 2006 when Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, announced the investigation had been dropped. Mr Blair warned at the time that threats had been received which indicated that continuing the inquiry would put British lives at risk.

But yesterday, Lord Justice Moses and Mr Justice Sullivan said that the SFO director, Robert Wardle, had failed to stand up to threats from the Saudis.

They said: "The director was required to satisfy the court that all that could reasonably be done had been done to resist the threat. He has failed to do so."

The judgment added: "No one, whether within this country or outside, is entitled to interfere with the course of our justice. It is the failure of government and the defendant to bear that essential principle in mind that justifies the intervention of this court."

The judges added: "On 11 December 2006, the Prime Minister said this was the clearest case for intervention in the public interest he had seen. We agree."

Disagreeing with the Government's argument that the SFO was entitled to "surrender" to the threat, the judges said: "So bleak a picture of the impotence of the law invites at least dismay, if not outrage." They were scathing about the SFO's line that the decision to halt the inquiry was taken independently of the Government. "The more the defendant stresses that he reached a conclusion free from pressure imposed by the UK Government, the more he demonstrates the inconsistency in submitting to pressure applied by the government of a foreign state," the judges ruled.

The no-holds-barred judgment sparked joy last night among the arms trade campaigners who had taken the case to the High Court.

Demanding that the SFO restart its investigation, Symon Hill, of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade which brought the action with the pressure group Corner House, said: "We hope the SFO will reopen the inquiry and we call on Gordon Brown and his government not to stand in the way."

He added: "We are delighted. This judgment brings Britain a step closer to the day when BAE is no longer calling the shots. It has been clear from the start that the dropping of the investigation was about neither national security nor jobs. It was due to the influence of BAE and Saudi princes over the UK Government."

The judgment could require the SFO to reconsider its decision to call off the inquiry although the department is thought likely to appeal. An SFO spokeswoman said: "The SFO are carefully considering the implications of the judgment and the way forward. No further comment at this stage." Downing Street also declined to comment.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, demanded a full inquiry into the decision to abandon the SFO investigation and warned that the Government's decision had done "untold damage" to Britain's standing.

He said: "This investigation was blocked supposedly to protect our security, but it looks increasingly like it was done to protect BAE sales by appeasing the Saudi government.

"There is now a pressing need for a full inquiry into the SFO's decision to end the investigation and what pressure was brought to bear by the Government."

BAE said: "The case was between two campaign groups and the director of the SFO. It concerned the legality of a decision made by the director of the SFO. BAE Systems played no part in that decision."

Timeline

1985 – Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher agrees first phase of Al-Yamamah arms deal with the Saudi government.

1987 - British Aerospace (later BAE Systems) delivers first aircraft to the Saudis.

1988 – The governments sign the second stage of the deal.

1992 - National Audit Office investigates contract, but its report is never published.

2003 - Allegations surface that BAE paid bribes to senior Saudis through a secret slush fund. The company denies the claims.

2004 – BAE confirms the Serious Fraud Office is investigating its dealings with the Saudis.

2005 - Provisional agreement to supply Saudi Arabia with Eurofighter Typhoon jets is announced by BAE.

1 December 2006 – BAE Systems warns that talks with the Saudis are dragging over the Eurofighter. Its French competitor, Dassault, discloses it is talking to the Saudis over the sale of a rival jet, the Rafale.

8 December 2006 – Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, provokes outrage when he announces the SFO probe is being dropped. Tony Blair is said to be behind the move after persuading the SFO the investigation is threatening national security and "British lives on British streets".

September 2007 - Saudi Arabia and the UK agree a deal for 72 Eurofighter Typhoon combat jets.

Yesterday – SFO's decision to halt its investigation ruled unlawful in the High Court.

Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv'The Last Kingdom' embraces politics, religion, warfare, courage, love and loyalty, say creators
Sport
Sergio Romero saves Wesley Sneijder's penalty
world cup 2014But after defeating the Dutch, Lionel Messi and Argentina will walk out at the Maracana on Sunday as underdogs against Germany
Sport
Scoreboard at the end of the semi-final World Cup match between Brazil and Germany at The Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte
Sport
'Saddest man in Brazil' takes defeat with good grace, handing replica trophy to German fans
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleThe Game of Thrones author said speculation about his health and death was 'offensive'
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Lauren O'Neil in Jamie Lloyd's Richard III
theatreReview: The monarch's malign magnetism and diabolic effrontery aren’t felt
News
Glamour magazine hosts a yoga class with Yogalosophy author Mandy Ingber on June 10, 2013 in New York City.
newsFather Padraig O'Baoill said the exercise was 'unsavoury' in a weekly parish newsletter
Extras
indybest
News
people'She is unstoppable', says Jean Paul Gaultier at Paris show
Sport
Alexis Sanchez and apparently his barber Carlos Moles in Barcelona today
football
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips
video
Arts and Entertainment
In his own words: Oscar Wilde in 1882
theatreNew play by the Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials - and what they reveal about the man
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m
filmWith US films earning record-breaking amounts at the Chinese box office, Hollywood is more than happy to take its lead from its new-found Asian audience
News
The garage was up for sale in Canning Place Mews for £500,000
newsGarage for sale for £500,000
Life and Style
tech
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 apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile App/IOS Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC)

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Mobile App/IOS...

Front End Developer-JavaScript, Angular J.S, HTML, CSS, ASP.NET

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front End Deve...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Day In a Page

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

Hollywood targets Asian audiences

The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child
Autocorrect has its uses but it can go rogue with embarrassing results - so is it time to ditch it?

Is it time to ditch autocorrect?

Matthew J X Malady persuaded friends to message manually instead, but failed to factor in fat fingers and drunk texting
10 best girls' summer dresses

Frock chick: 10 best girls' summer dresses

Get them ready for the holidays with these cool and pretty options 
Westminster’s dark secret: Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together

Westminster’s dark secret

Adultery, homosexuality, sadomasochism and abuse of children were all seemingly lumped together
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Dulce et decorum est - a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Dulce et decorum est: a life cut short for a poet whose work achieved immortality
Google tells popular music website to censor album cover art in 'sexually explicit content' ban

Naked censorship?

The strange case of Google, the music website and the nudity take-down requests
Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

Howzat! 8 best cricket bats

As England take on India at Trent Bridge, here is our pick of the high-performing bats to help you up your run-count this summer 
Brazil vs Germany World Cup 2014 comment: David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

David Luiz falls from leader figure to symbol of national humiliation

Captain appears to give up as shocking 7-1 World Cup semi-final defeat threatens ramifications in Brazil