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Last Updated: Monday, 8 December, 2003, 16:53 GMT
Hoogstraten freed after legal battle
Nicholas van Hoogstraten
Hoogstraten served one year of a 10-year sentence
Property tycoon Nicholas van Hoogstraten, jailed for killing a business rival, has been set free after winning a legal battle over a manslaughter conviction.

The Court of Appeal agreed on Monday that the prosecution's case against him did not stand up.

He had been cleared of murder but convicted of the manslaughter of father-of-six Mohammed Raja at the Old Bailey last year.

Jailed for 10 years, Mr van Hoogstraten, 58, from Uckfield, East Sussex, served a year in prison before winning the right to a retrial when his conviction was quashed in July by the Court of Appeal.

The man once described as Britain's youngest millionaire may now consider suing for wrongful imprisonment.

Manslaughter case

In July, Judge Sir Stephen Mitchell agreed with Mr van Hoogstraten's counsel, Geoffrey Cox QC, there was no foundation for a manslaughter case.

There was a complete lack of evidence on which a jury could convict, the defence team had argued.

Prosecutor David Waters QC immediately asked to seek leave to appeal against the judge's ruling.

The judge allowed the prosecution to seek leave to appeal - but on Monday the appeal court judges decided they had no jurisdiction and referred the matter back to Justice Mitchell.

Mohammed Raja
Mohammed Raja was shot by two henchmen of Hoogstraten's
As Justice Mitchell was not available in court on Monday, Mr van Hoogstraten was given bail by Mr Justice Keith on condition he returned to the Old Bailey on Tuesday to have the case formally dropped against him.

Mr Raja's son Amjad, 42, said his family were "shocked" by the development.

"Our family have now been deprived of an opportunity to have the case heard by a jury on what we see as a legal technicality," he said in a statement.

"The family are devastated that the extremely hard work of the police officers involved in the case has been totally undone by what we believe to be a catalogue of mistakes by the Crown Prosecution Service which resulted in today's decision.

"We also do not understand how or why key witnesses for the prosecution decided to retract or decline to give evidence at the trial, nor do we understand how some of the defence costs of a self-promoted multi-millionaire were funded by legal aid.

"We feel that these matters should be promptly and fully investigated by the authorities."

Shot at point-blank range

Mr Raja was stabbed five times and shot in the face at point-blank range with a sawn-off shotgun by Robert Knapp and David Croke at his home in Sutton, south London, on 2 July 1999.

The 62-year-old businessman had begun court proceedings against Mr van Hoogstraten alleging fraud.

And Mr van Hoogstraten had allegedly asked Knapp, whom he had met in prison decades earlier, to teach Mr Raja a lesson. He was alleged to have paid him 7,000.

But his defence team argued Mr van Hoogstraten could not have foreseen the attack on Mr Raja would inevitably end in death.

And in July Justice Mitchell agreed that Mr van Hoogstraten could not therefore be guilty of manslaughter.

Knapp, 59, of Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, in the Irish Republic, and Croke, 54, of Bolney Road, East Moulsecoomb, Brighton, were both convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's June Kelly
"Van Hoogstraten has always been a controversial character"



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