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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 16:51 GMT
Guinness Four 'denied fair trial'
The four have been trying to clear their names since 1990
The "Guinness Four" were denied "every Englishman's birthright" to a fair trial, an appeal against their fraud convictions has heard.

Michael Beloff QC, counsel for former Guinness chief executive Ernest Saunders, told the High Court that under general principles of fairness, the four had been robbed of their right to silence.

Mr Saunders, Gerald Ronson, Tony Parnes and Jack Lyons were found guilty of theft and false accounting following the 2.6bn takeover by Guinness of the Scotch whisky company, Distillers in 1986.

They were accused of rigging the market in Guinness shares to allow the takeover to succeed.

The appeal follows a European Court ruling that they did not receive a fair trial, because the prosecution relied on evidence from Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) interviews, during which the men were denied their right to silence.

Gerald Ronson
Gerald Ronson is one of the Guinness Four

The men have been trying to clear their names ever since their convictions in 1990.

Last week a Law Lords judgment blocked their defence under the Human Rights Act, ruling that the Act - which did not come into force until many years after the convictions - did not apply retrospectively to appeals.

But on Monday, Mr Beloff told the High Court that the breach of the defendants' right not to be compelled to incriminate themselves was just one of the points being raised in the fresh appeal, referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

He said the ruling that the Human Rights Act did not apply retrospectively "does not kill stone dead each and every argument".

During the three-week hearing, appeal judges Lord Justice Rose, Mr Justice Tomlinson and Sir Humphrey Potts will also hear claims that police failed to pass on reports of a plot to corrupt one of the jurors.

The four also rely on the non-disclosure of evidence concerning accepted "market practice" at the time of the Guinness affair.

Suffering dementia

Mr Saunders, 62, chief executive of Guinness at the time of the takeover of Distillers, was jailed for five years in 1990 for false accounting, theft and conspiracy.

The sentence was halved on appeal and he was released from open prison after serving only 10 months when doctors decided he was suffering from dementia.

Now a company consultant, he says the diagnosis of his condition was mistaken.

Anthony Parnes
Tony Parnes: Had his sentence reduced on appeal

Financier Mr Lyons, who escaped jail because of ill health, has suffered three heart attacks and is receiving chemotherapy following an operation for cancer.

The 84-year-old was fined 3m and stripped of his knighthood for his role in the Guinness affair.

Mr Ronson, 61, was sentenced to 12 months and fined 5m after being convicted of two counts of false accounting, one count of theft, and of conspiracy to contravene the Prevention of Fraud Act 1958.

He was released after serving six months.

Stockbroker Mr Parnes, 54, was convicted of four counts of false accounting and two counts of theft, and had his original sentence of two-and-a-half years reduced to 21 months on appeal in May 1991.

The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday.

The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones
"Exposed the unacceptable face of city dealings"
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