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Tuesday, 19 September, 2000, 13:48 GMT 14:48 UK
Guinness trial 'breached human rights'
Gerald Ronson
Gerald Ronson: suffered a breach of his human rights
The trial of three businessmen convicted of colluding in an illegal share-fixing operation alongside former Guinness chairman Ernest Saunders breached their human rights, European judges have ruled.

The prosecution's reliance on Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) interviews with Gerald Ronson, Sir Jack Lyons and Anthony Parnes during the Guinness fraud inquiry obliged the three men to incriminate themselves, said the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.

But they rejected other claims by the three men that there had been "improper collusion" between police and the DTI, and that the trial had been unfair in any other way.

No damages were awarded but the judges gave the three men two months to submit claims for costs and expenses.

ernest saunders
Ernest Saunders

The Strasbourg judges reached a similar verdict in the case of Mr Saunders more than four years ago, dealing a major blow to efforts to tackle city corruption.

The British Government conceded after the Saunders verdict that the use of the DTI evidence violated the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain is a signatory.

The court said on Tuesday that there was no reason to reach a different conclusion in the case of Mr Saunders's co-defendants.

Prison threat

In November 1986, the then Trade and Industry Secretary appointed inspectors to investigate allegations of an illegal share support operation that aimed to guarantee the success of Guinness's acquisition of the Distillers company.

Mr Ronson, Mr Lyons and Mr Parnes were interviewed separately by the inspectors on various occasions.

They faced the threat of hefty fines or up to two years in prison for contempt of court if they refused to answer the questions put to them.

Transcripts of the interviews were passed to the Crown Prosecution Service and then to the police when the Director of Public Prosecutions requested a criminal investigation.

Sir Jack Lyons
Sir Jack Lyons
During the Guinness trial efforts to have the DTI statements declared inadmissible failed, and the prosecution read out transcripts of the interviews to the jury.

On Tuesday the judges in the European Court of Human Rights ruled the DTI evidence was used "in a manner intended to incriminate" and was therefore an infringement of the defendants' right not to incriminate themselves.

Crown Court trial

Mr Saunders was charged in May 1987 with false accounting, theft and the destruction of documents.

Charges against the three businessmen came in October 1987.

Mr Lyons, then a management consultant, was charged with nine offences relating to invoices submitted for advice given during Guinness's acquisition of the Distillers company.

Mr Ronson, chairman of Heron International was charged with eight offences relating to invoices which two Heron subsidiary companies submitted for losses incurred on the sale of Guinness shares and for the "success fee" paid after the successful outcome of the Guinness bid.

Anthony Parnes
Anthony Parnes
Mr Parnes, a trader, who had by then been arrested in America, was charged on his return to the UK with six offences relating to two invoices and the success fees he had charged to Guinness.

All three maintained that the share operations were common practice and could not be classified as a crime, and they pleaded not guilty to all charges at the Crown Court trial.

In August 1990 Saunders was convicted and jailed for five years and the three businessmen were also convicted on counts of conspiracy, false accounting and theft.

Appeals were rejected in May 1991.

A second appeal in 1994 on the basis of new evidence relating to City of London takeover practices, was also rejected.

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