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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Fraud case directors are cleared
Five shipping company directors from Cornwall have been cleared of conspiring to defraud the owners of a boat service to the south Atlantic island of St Helena of nearly 900,000.

The men, who worked for Curnow Shipping Ltd (CSL) in Falmouth, had been accused of conning the St Helena Line Limited by taking unlawful "backhanders".

But a Bristol Crown Court jury was told there was no case to answer.

Afterwards the five attacked the "waste of time and money" spent on the case.

It's been a very stressful time and there's a general feeling it was a waste of public time and public money
Christopher Gardner

Sixty two-year-old David Brock of Falmouth, 52 year old Christopher Gardner, also of Falmouth, Simon Sugrue, 63, of Helston, 69 year old Andrew Bell also of Helston and Jonathan Challacombe, a 52 year old from Plymouth all denied conspiracy to defraud between 1992 and 2001.

CSL took over the running of the RMS St Helena, the only service to the British island of St Helena in the south Atlantic in 1977.

The service, which ran four times a year, took passengers and cargo from Cardiff and was the only direct route from mainland UK.

Key witness

At the trial's opening it had been the prosecution's case that the men defrauded St Helena Line Limited by taking "secret commission" on insurance for the ship and on ship stores through an alleged system of double charging.

But Judge Simon Darwall-Smith said the allegation in relation to double charging was withdrawn and the case had changed to a failure by CSL to sufficiently disclose and account for payments to SHL.

He said there had been no fraudulent document prepared for the purpose of concealing profits and added: "The highest it can be said that these defendants did was to hide the commissions on insurance and the gains on stores from SHL which may make them liable in civil law but does not make them the subject of a criminal indictment for conspiracy to defraud."

He also said that the death of SHL's financial inspector, who would have been a key witness, made a fair trial impossible as the jury could not assess what or how much he knew.

Mr Gardner said after the case: "We are very pleased and justice has been done.

"It's been a very stressful time and there's a general feeling it was a waste of public time and public money."

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