SFO inquiry into Ward complaint

Dominic Prince,David Hellier
Sunday 09 July 1995 23:02
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BY DOMINIC PRINCE and DAVID HELLIER

The Serious Fraud Office has conducted an internal inquiry into the procedures it followed in a recent fraud case following a complaint made by one of the defendants to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary.

Michael Ward, the former chairman of European Leisure, who was convicted in a case brought by the SFO of conspiracy to defraud, complained about his treatment in the case to Mr Howard.

The complaint was referred by Mr Howard to the law officers who in turn contacted the SFO.

One of Mr Ward's allegations is that documents stolen from his house during a break-in were then used by the SFO during his trial.

Mr Ward is seeking to appeal against his conviction although he faces new charges later this year on separate offences. The SFO in turn is appealing against what it views as too lenient a sentence - 220 hours community service - from the first fraud case, which ended in March.

Mr Ward's solicitor, Harvey Rands said: "Mr Ward has made some very serious allegations as to the conduct of the European Leisure investigation and the propriety of the methods of obtaining evidence.

The Serious Fraud Office has carried out an inquiry and a report has been given to the director. Mr Ward has not been interviewed or informed of the contents of the report."

Mr Ward claims that before his arrest his Belgravia house was broken into and documents relating to the takeover of Midsummer Leisure by European Leisure (then chaired by Mr Ward) were stolen from a filing cabinet in his private office. Some of these documents later found their way to the SFO.

In a statement the SFO said that the defendant had made a number of allegations which were passed on to the director of the SFO, George Staple.

"In so far as the allegations relate to the first trial nothing has been found to cast any doubt on the integrity of the investigation or the prosecution. It would obviously be inappropriate to comment on matters relating to a forthcoming trial," the statement said.

It is understood that the SFO maintains that the material in question was obtained legitimately by them.

They have also argued that the credibility of the documents has never been in question and this view has not been contested by Mr Ward. They also say that copies of the documents were copied and sent to Mr Ward for use in his defence.

Both Mr Ward and Jeremy Howarth, the company's former finance director, were convicted in March this year of conspiring to mount an illegal share support operation in support of the hostile takeover bid for Midsummer Leisure.

George Hendry, a third former director, was given a conditional discharge.

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