Saunders got pounds 1.3m legal aid

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Legal aid for Ernest Saunders, the former chief executive of Guinness convicted of rigging the share market during a bitter takeover battle, totalled more than pounds 1.3m, the Government revealed last night.

Mr Saunders, now 59, was sentenced to five years imprisonment in 1990 after being convicted of theft and conspiracy to defraud. Mr Justice Henry, the trial judge, said he was guilty of 'dishonesty on a massive scale'.

However, the Court of Appeal later halved his sentence and in September the European Commission of Human Rights said his trial was oppressive and unfair because he was denied the right of silence available to other defendants.

Yesterday, John Taylor, Parliamentary Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department, said in a written House of Commons answer that Mr Saunders' lawyers had received legal aid payments totalling pounds 1,342,465. He added: 'This figure includes VAT and covers all legal representation at the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal.'

The six-month Guinness trial was the most expensive in British criminal history, estimated to have cost more than pounds 6m. It was the result of the bitterly-fought pounds 2.7bn takeover of the spirits company Distillers in 1986. Mr Saunders, Gerald Ronson, Anthony Parnes and Sir Jack Lyons were convicted of secretly and illegally inflating Guinness's share price during the takeover battle with the food group Argyll.

There has been increasing controversy about the amount of legal aid granted to some defendants. Jawad Hashim, a wealthy Iraqi who ran up a pounds 4m legal aid bill in the High Court, is under investigation by the Legal Aid Board. Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, is under pressure to change the rules which help company directors and financiers, while disqualifying the needy.