Forget Alzheimer's - Saunders

John Shepherd
Friday 30 December 1994 01:02 GMT

Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness chairman, yesterday insisted that he had never suffered from Alzheimer's disease, or been diagnosed as having it, in apparent contradiction of claims made when he was released from jail in the summer of 1991.

Mr Saunders, who was last week given permission by the Home Office to appeal against his conviction, also claimed yesterday that the Serious Fraud Office was out to win at all costs during his trial in 1990.

The claim that he had not suffered from pre-senile dementure, or Alzheimer's, made on the BBC's World at One programme, is contrary to the reasons why the Court of Appeal halved his original five-year jail sentence in 1991. The Court of Appeal, which di d not give him early release from jail, accepted he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease, based on evidence that he was unable to recite three numbers backwards and thought that Gerald Ford, and not George Bush, was the then US president.

Dr Perkin, consultant neurologist to the Crown and one of three expert witnesses, maintained during the appeal that Mr Saunders was suffering from depression and not the degenerative brain disease. He reiterated his diagnosis in the June edition of the British Medical Journal in 1992.

Mr Saunders's apparent recovery from Alzheimer's has been widely described as nothing short of a miracle. Less than a year after Mr Saunders, now 58, was released from Ford open prison in 1991 he became a consultant to Carphone Warehouse, a London-based business phone group.

At the same time he started negotiating a pension thought to be worth £90,000 a year from Guinness. He is currently on a skiing holiday in his native Austria, the country he came to Britain from in 1938 as a refugee.

Questioned about his "miraculous" recovery, Mr Saunders said yesterday: "I was never diagnosed as having Alzheimer's. I was very unwell at the time of the appeal, perhaps hardly surprising with all the stresses and strains that I had been under. The sym p toms that I was suffering from could have well been confused. I don't know. I'm not a doctor."

On the SFO's behaviour during the seven-month trial, he said: "My point has really been that in the trial that I was involved [in] this was very much an over the top prosecution."

That attack was countered strongly by Michael Chance, deputy director of the SFO during the Guinness investigation. "I would refute that [accusation] to the `nth degree. I would not, nor would any of my colleagues, have wanted for one moment to serve in a department where there was some kind of conspiracy going to convict people unfairly," he said.

Mr Saunders went to prison along with entrepreneur Gerald Ronson, 55, and stockbroker Tony Parnes, 48. A fourth man, financier Jack Lyons, 78, was spared a 30-month jail sentence because of ill health, but was stripped of his knighthood.

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