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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 14:24 GMT
Guinness Four lose final appeals
Guinness Four graphic
The Guinness Four (from left): Ernest Saunders, Gerald Ronson, Jack Lyons, Anthony Parnes
The four businessmen convicted of illegally boosting the price of Guinness shares during a 1986 takeover battle have lost their final appeals against conviction.


In English law... there is no absolute right to silence or privilege against self-incrimination

Lord Hoffmann
The House of Lords has ruled that the men's appeals should be dismissed because there were no grounds for considering their convictions to be unsafe.

The four - former Guinness chief executive Ernest Saunders, businessman Gerald Ronson, financier Jack Lyons and stockbroker Anthony Parnes - were convicted of offences including conspiracy, false accounting and theft.

The men had argued that their trial was unjust because it relied heavily on evidence they had been compelled to give to inspectors from the Department of Trade & Industry.

They said that their human rights had been infringed because they were deprived of their right to silence.

Fresh appeal?

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled that they did not get a fair trial because their right not to incriminate themselves had been infringed.

The House of Lords had to decide whether the European verdict could overrule laws made by the UK parliament.

The five law lords who heard the case ruled unanimously that the appeals should be dismissed.

Lord Hoffmann said the question of whether the convictions were unsafe was a matter of English law and international treaties did not form part of English law.

And he said: "In English law (as, I would imagine, in every other system of law) there is no absolute right to silence or privilege against self-incrimination."

Lawyers for Mr Ronson and Mr Lyons said on Thursday that they may return to the ECHR for a further ruling.

Jail sentences

The six-month-long court case, in 1990, was billed as the fraud trial of the century.

The four businessmen were found guilty of being involved in a conspiracy to drive up the price of Guinness shares during its bid to take over Distillers.

Ernest Saunders, the former Guinness chief executive, was jailed for five years for false accounting, theft and conspiracy.

His sentence was later cut to two-and-a-half years on appeal but he served only 10 months after he was diagnosed with pre-senile dementia.

He is now a company consultant and says the diagnosis was mistaken.

'Common practice'

Gerald Ronson, head of the Heron Group, was jailed for a year and fined 5m for false accounting, theft and conspiracy.

He was released after serving six months.

Stockbroker Anthony Parnes was sentenced to 30 months for false accounting and theft - that sentence was reduced to 21 months on appeal.

Financier Jack Lyons avoided a jail sentence because of ill-health but was fined 3m.

On appeal one count of conspiracy was quashed and his fine was cut to 2.5m

He was also stripped of his knighthood.

All four maintained that the share operations in question were common practice and could not be classified as crime.

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Lord Hoffmann
"I would dismiss these appeals"
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