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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 19:07 GMT 20:07 UK
Fraud trial dropped after blunder
An ex-banker charged with conspiracy to defraud walked free after a judge threw out a major Serious Fraud Office case because of a prosecution blunder.

The blunder involving papers at Southwark Crown Court had already seen three solicitors and a financial consultant cleared of any wrongdoing.

Martin Gibbins, of Little Berkhamstead, Herts, always denied any involvement with an international investors fraud.

On Tuesday Mr Justice Field ordered proceedings against him to be stayed.

'Sensitive' material

The prosecution barrister's "mistake" has left the taxpayer with a multi-million pound legal bill.

The trial centred around Mr Gibbins, who was said to have masterminded an "elaborate" fraud.

On the first day of the hearing listed to last for a minimum of nine months, a member of the prosecution team inadvertently disclosed a document to some of the defence lawyers without first deleting certain "sensitive" material.

Although the trial judge ruled they could not pass the information to their clients, the Court of Appeal disagreed.

This led to formal not guilty verdicts in favour of financial consultant Imdab Ullah, 35, of, St Johns Wood, London, and solicitors Michael Wilson-Smith, 59, of Haywards Heath, West Sussex; Peter Barnett, 48, of Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire, and Minesh Ruperalia, 38, of Leicester.

They had denied a variety of allegations including conspiracy to defraud between June 1994 and December 2000.

The Crown then sought to continue against Mr Gibbins alone, who was also accused of conspiracy.

'Strenuously denied'

After further legal argument on Tuesday, the judge today decided he was "more likely to be disadvantaged than not" if that happened.

"I accordingly order that the criminal proceedings pending against him be stayed," he added.

As a result the 2m cost of the SFO case, as well as an estimated combined defence costs of "at least" 10 million will have to be met out of public coffers.

After Tuesday's hearing Mr Gibbins' solicitor, Andrew Needleman, said: "My client has always strenuously denied any form of dishonesty and that all transactions, as far as he was concerned and that he was involved with, were legitimate."

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