The case was booked into Court Two at the Central Criminal Court for at least eight weeks. This was the second most important court in the country for criminal trials because we needed the room for all the documents and exhibits which would be called in the trial as evidence. I now had a little breathing space in order to try and settle some of my outstanding work-load. I had other cases running at the same time, and I was having to deal with the constant interventions from the particular chief inspector who was determined to carry on with his overbearing behaviour towards me.
At that time, the culture at New Scotland Yard was hugely hierarchical, and officers who were in the course of attaining senior rank were effectively untouchable. The worst behaved like petty dictators, and they could damage a subordinate officer's career on a mere whim. This particular officer had made it his objective to punish me for the journey and the work I had undertaken in America at my Commander's behest, but with the Commander now promoted and moved to another department, this man went out of his way to belittle me, to rubbish my work, and to insult me at every opportunity. He took the lengthy report I had written on my work and findings in America, and in front of the rest of my office, threw it across the room to lodge on top of a cabinet, saying it was 'shite' and proved the lack of wisdom in sending me to the States. He would call me and my colleagues 'paper cowboys', meaning that we focused in minute detail on documents and records (which was what you had to master in fraud investigation), as opposed to the 'action culture' so beloved of officers from the old hard-drinking, hard swearing departments such as the Flying Squad and the Regional Crime Squads.
Lest it be felt that I have been overly critical of departments and personalities outside the police force, let me say here that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to really effective detection and prevention of major fraud lay within the policing agencies. The Fraud Squad possessed many officers who didn't want to be there, who thought just like this particular man, who were incurably and thoroughly lazy, and who did not have the intellectual capacity or the patience to master the new dimensions of serious fraud that we were increasingly being called upon to deal with. If anything contributed to the increased difficulties in dealing with the new fraud paradigm, it was the existence of men like these, and it was one of the bigger tragedies for me that no-one in a senior rank or position could be bothered to realise it.
I have already said that the real agenda behind the defence case preparation for the trial had little to do with the solicitor concerned, but had everything to do with seeking to find a way to get him acquitted of any offence of dishonesty, so that the chances of civil suit against the law firm would be nullified. This was the agenda that lay behind the High Court and Appeal Court actions to get the documents from me, so that they could ascertain exactly the part the solicitor had played. Then the demands for me to hand over all the evidence against him were made so they could see exactly how strong my case against him was, so that they could find ways to undermine it. His own attempts to make a self-serving statement of facts had blown up in his face because I could prove he had lied. Everything that could be done to get him out of the trial was attempted, and they had all failed. They were faced with a huge bill for damages and the concomitant public opprobrium that would go with the news of the trial and its outcome. I was very confident that the evidence against him was overwhelming, and I was looking forward to the trial.
The night before the case was due to begin, I was in my usual state of excited preparedness. I had gone over and over in my mind how I intended the case to proceed, and what order I would recommend to counsel for the witnesses. There was a knock at my front door. A local uniformed policeman was standing there with a copy of an urgent telex from the administrator of the Central Criminal Court. In the days without mobile phones or email, we had to carry important messages by hand to their recipients.
The message informed me that the case had been moved from Number Two court to a small court at the Guildhall Justices' Rooms. I was dumbfounded. It meant that the case was collapsing and the defendants intended to plead guilty, but why move it from a very public court with its army of sharp-nosed court reporters, to a room in the back of beyond behind Cannon Street Station, which even I did not know how to find?
The next morning, I turned up to the court with plenty of time to spare. I was met by the Court Inspector from the Central Criminal Court, a kind and usually genial man who knew most detectives who gave evidence at the Old Bailey by name.
He said; '...You're not going to like what I am about to tell you, lad! I have a message from your Chief Inspector that some kind of deal has been done between the prosecution and the defence and guilty pleas are going to be entered today. Your boss says you will not like what's going to happen and I am instructed that if you cut up rough about it, which he strongly expects you to do, I will have to nick you and keep you locked up till the court rises. I don't want to have to do that lad, so do as you're told, duck your nut, no matter what happens, and we'll talk about it afterwards...'
I thought the ground was about to swallow me up, my head was whirling, what kind of deal could they have done, and why had I not been consulted? I should have been the first one to be asked if the deal was acceptable as I was the de facto prosecutor, albeit we were led by a barrister. I tried to ring the office. The Chief Inspector wasn't available, the bastard had decided to make himself scarce. Then it hit me, he had been the one to order me to hand over all the evidence to the defence, and now he had been the one to usurp my position and accept the deal offered by the defence, and without telling me. None of my colleagues knew anything! '...What's wrong...' they kept asking!
In court the defendants were sitting at the rear of the court, with their solicitors. They didn't look in my direction. The prosecution barrister was closeted with two other briefs and didn't look like she was going to talk to me. I tried to make eye contact with her. She looked away. I tried to engage her politely. '...I've no time to talk to you now officer, perhaps later...' This was unheard of behaviour, never before had I been through such a bizarre process, normally your own prosecuting barrister wants to talk to the officer in the case at length and alone to make sure everything is ready and available.
Suddenly, on the dot of 10.30am the judge bustled in. Prosecution Counsel stood and asked him if he had had a chance to read all the papers and submissions. '...Yes...' he said, '...I have seen everything I need to see...' Prosecution counsel then explained that of the sixteen or so charges on the indictment, starting with the charge of conspiracy to defraud, followed by the long list of fraudulently obtaining money by deception charges, she was advising the judge that the prosecution would not be seeking to proceed with those counts and asked that the judge allow them to lie on the file. The judge immediately agreed this was the best course of action.
My head was swimming, they weren't going to carry on with any of these charges, despite everything we had been through, the civil cases, the demands for evidence, the defendant's repeated lies which I had proved to be lies, he was going to be allowed to walk away from every serious and important count on the indictment. More importantly, these were all offences of dishonesty, so no conviction for dishonesty would now appear on his record!
Prosecution counsel then said that the defendants had agreed to plead guilty to the two counts under the PFI Act, those of possessing and distributing unauthorised leaflets. The judge then asked the clerk to read the two remaining counts, to which the defendants both pleaded guilty.
These two counts involved a dishonest element and as a result of their distributing the documents, investors had been mislead and defrauded thereby. The solicitor's barrister then stood and addressed the judge.
His client had only agreed to plead guilty to these last two counts in order to save the time of the Court, he said, all the other matters would have been strongly contested but the prosecution's actions in not proceeding with them made the whole issue now irrelevant. He then asked the judge to find that even in these last two cases, that there had been no element of dishonesty involved.
I could not believe my eyes or ears, he was asking the judge to connive in the acceptance of what is called an 'equivocal' plea. When a defendant pleads guilty to a charge he does so in the full admission of all the facts. If he says, '...well I did the act but it wasn't dishonest...', then that is an equivocal plea and has to be dealt with as a 'not guilty' plea, and a full trial ordered. Only a jury can decide whether a defendant acted honestly or dishonestly. It is not part of a Judges' function to so decide. However, this judge seemed oblivious to the law, and he agreed that the record would note that no dishonesty was imputed.
Having accepted these corrupt pleas, the prosecution counsel stood and asked if the judge wished to be addressed on the defendant's antecedents. It is normal practice when sentencing, for a judge to be informed of a defendant's background and any criminal convictions he might have. In this case, the judge demurred and said he knew everything he needed to know about the accused, and did not need to be advised as to their antecedents, so the solicitor's previous criminal history was not read to the court.
The defendants were ordered to stand and the judge immediately gave them both suspended prison sentences and ordered a small contribution for costs for their legal aid! With that, he disappeared from the bench and left the Court. The whole procedure had taken about ten minutes in all. no press were present or available, so the matter was never reported.
I thought I was going to be sick. After everything we had been through, this thoroughly dishonest man had been allowed to walk away from the consequences of his actions, because any other outcome would have meant a significant cost and public disgrace for the law firm of which he was a partner. Any civil action brought against him could now only be brought against him alone, and because there were no findings of dishonesty, the cases would be much more difficult to sustain. What is more, his partnership was safe, and their indemnity insurance policy would not now be troubled. The legal establishment had conspired to protect a City law firm at the expense of Justice, they had won and a man with an habitual criminal record was being allowed to walk away free and clear.
The only person who spoke to me was the metals' broker who came up to me and said; '...I haven't a clue what went on there, I thought I was certain to go away...' I managed to force something close to a smile. '...It was nothing you did...' I said, '...just don't come back here again, you've had a great result...'
Our barrister swept past me without speaking. There was no point in confronting her, she was part and parcel of the same corrupt, rotten, system that had just ensured that a law firm had survived, but in circumstances they did not deserve.
I went and sat in a pub and began to get very, very drunk. I had learned a series of very painful lessons. I had learned that the City of London was a structure comprised of a whole series of interlinking roles and movers, who were all bound up in the same endgame. They all wanted to make money, and seemingly at any cost. I thought about the spineless regulators in the DTI and how people like this solicitor and his bent friends were so contemptuous of them that they thought they could operate scams like the Vegas Trust with impunity. I thought about the eminent silk who had advised them, his contempt for the DTI's regulatory ability and his arrogance meant that he gave very poor advice to his clients. He was amazed when I turned up to interview him and I cautioned him against self incrimination. He took my advice and answered no questions. A little later he would be elevated to an extremely important judicial role indeed. I thought about the victims of the fraud, many of whom preferred to believe the word of the solicitor when he told them their money was safe, rather than believe me even when I showed them the evidence that their money had been frittered away. I thought about how detectives within my own calling were letting the people of London down by their arrogance, their ignorance and their obsession with hierarchy and rank. I thought how wrongdoers were facilitated by London lawyers, accountants, and the offshore facilities which can be arranged in a few minutes with one telephone call, but which can take months if not years to look behind the corporate veil. I realised then that we were just fooling ourselves that we could make a difference, and that the City and the financial sector were literally a 'protected species' and there was nothing I or mine could do about it, and more importantly, if we tried too hard, we would be the ones to be punished.
Later that afternoon, the Court Inspector found me. '...Don't take it too hard lad, I've seen many such cases in my time when the guilty are allowed to walk away because the powerful are threatened. Just do your job to the best of your ability and leave the outcomes to the people who run this bloody country, come on, time to go home, you've had enough...'
Ironically, the guilty solicitor was allowed to carry on practicing, albeit as a sole trader. The Law Society did not apparently move against him in 1985, and despite everything he was allowed to keep his practicing certificate. Imagine my surprise therefore when researching this blog, I came across the following entry in the Law Society's records.
"...The SDT ordered the respondent, (the solicitor in my case) who had practised in a partnership, to be struck off the roll on 9 April 2002 for unbefitting conduct, in that he had acted in transactions relating to banking instrument and investment schemes in which he had failed to comply with assurances given to the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors (following a warning letter sent to him) that he would not be involved in any further way with such transactions; and in the course of those transactions he either had failed to be alert or had deliberately closed his eyes to their suspicious features and, in so doing, had acted in a manner likely to compromise or impair his independence or integrity, the good repute of the profession, and/or his proper standard of work, contrary to practice rule 1. The respondent was ordered to pay costs (to be assessed)..."
I have no knowledge of this case, so I can not comment, I merely insert it here for the record.
Since that day I have never believed one word that the City has to say about its probity, its honesty or its sound advice. In my view it is a sink, a cess pit, the words Mark Tucker, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England used recently when he referred to Barclays Bank. That is why I say that the City is one huge criminogenic enterprise, designed to exploit the gullibility of the public, and to protect the hegemony of those who are permitted to practice within its gates. We should treat it as an organised crime family and deal with it accordingly.