Jubilee line £60m fraud trial collapses

Legal Affairs Correspondent,Robert Verkaik
Wednesday 23 March 2005 01:00

An inquiry has begun into the collapse of a £60m fraud trial which led to the acquittal of six men accused of corruption in connection with the extension of London Underground's Jubilee line.

An inquiry has begun into the collapse of a £60m fraud trial which led to the acquittal of six men accused of corruption in connection with the extension of London Underground's Jubilee line.

Judge Ann Goddard finally called a halt to proceedings yesterday, two years after the Old Bailey trial began, in a case described as one of the costliest and most inefficient prosecutions in British legal history.

Judge Goddard cleared the six defendants after the prosecution offered no evidence and said they would not pursue a retrial. Anthony Upward QC said the prosecution's decision to ask for the jury to be discharged was taken with the approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions after a review of the case.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, said the inquiry into the circumstances that led to that decision would be led by the independent Crown Prosecution Service watchdog, Stephen Wooler. He said the decision to drop the case would cause "great public disquiet as it causes me considerable disquiet". In his written statement he added: "The public are entitled to an efficient and effective criminal justice system and cases such as the present one must never be allowed to happen again. Most serious allegations have not in the end been brought to a final conclusion."

From the start of the trial in June 2003, proceedings had been dogged by many problems including jury sickness, lengthy delays and disruption which the court was told made it impossible for the men to have a fair hearing.

The jury was told the trial was expected to last for 18 months. But, by March last year - still in the midst of the prosecution case - the jury was reduced to 10. One had become pregnant and the other had been arrested for alleged benefit fraud. Fresh concern over the jury arose in the last week of July when one of them complained they were worried about falling behind in their career. Later, another reportedly had worries about falling behind with pension contributions.

Ten defence barristers and their instructing solicitors have clocked up £14m in legal aid, while the three prosecuting barristers are to be paid £1.8m out of public funds. Further costs are expected to bring the total figure for the case to £60m. Yet, at least one of the lawyers sat in court for nearly a year without uttering a single word and, in the past seven months, the jury heard evidence on only 13 days of the 140 available.

The prosecution arose from allegations that the defendants conspired to defraud London Underground by gaining access to confidential insider information, which was used against London Underground Limited's interests during the course of its dealings with tenderers and contractors on the Jubilee line extension project.

The information was relevant to the award of contracts worth tens of millions of pounds and also two substantial claims for additional monies under contracts awarded in connection with the Jubilee line extension project. The allegations also concerned corrupting public officials entrusted with safeguarding London Underground Limited's interests.

The six cleared yesterday had all denied corruption. They were Stephen Rayment, 44, from Leatherhead, Surrey; Mark Woodward-Smith, 44, from Wimbledon, south-west London; Paul Fisher, 52, from Saffron Walden, Essex; Mark Skinner, 50, from Warlingham, Surrey; Graham Scard, 50, from Forest Hill, south-east London; and Anthony Wootton, 50, from Stone-in-Oxney, Kent.

Mark Skinner said outside court: "Although I should now feel relief and happiness, I feel only anger. Anger at a prosecution which has destroyed my business and tortured my family. Anger at a prosecution that has caused significant damage to my health. Anger that no one in a position to do so stepped in and ended what to all reasonable observers had become a farce long ago.

"Anger at the fact that those who have persecuted me to this day - the British Transport Police and the CPS and those instructed by them - fail to accept they got this terribly wrong."

The failure to return a jury verdict in the case is expected to prompt renewed calls for similar cases to be tried without jurors. Last year, the Government passed legislation that permits judges to sit alone without juries in complex trials.

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