The Serious Fraud Office is being criticized for wasting millions of pounds of taxpayer money, while defendants’ lives have been “ravaged” for a decade after no evidence was presented.
Fri 10 Mar 2023 10:57 UK
Charges have been dropped against three former officers of G4S’s electronic tagging arm who were accused of defrauding the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) after a 10-year investigation.
G4S Care and Justice Services provided electronic monitoring services to the government from 2005 to 2013.
A subsidiary of security giant G4S was accused of misleading the MoJ about the extent of its profit from the tagging contract.
In July 2020, the firm admitted responsibility to three counts of fraud and agreed to pay a financial penalty of £38.5m and Serious Fraud Office (SFO) costs of £5.9m.
Under the Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the SFO, G4S can continue to be treated as a government supplier.
The DPA only applies to the potential criminal liability of G4S Care & Justice Services as a company and not to any current or former employees.
Former managing director Richard Morris, 47, from High Wycombe, ex-commercial director Mark Preston, 51, from Cheshire, and former finance manager James Jardine, 41, from Cumbria, were charged with seven counts of fraud.
The SFO alleged that the officers made false representations to the MoJ between 2009 and 2012.
At Friday’s Old Bailey hearing before Mr Justice Johnson, prosecutor Crispin Aylett Casey presented no evidence in the case, which was due to go to trial in April next year.
Mr Aylett said: “The decision to drop this matter is not one that can be taken either quickly or lightly.”
After a “careful and comprehensive review” it was decided that it was “not in the public interest” to proceed with the trial, even though the realistic prospect of conviction remained.
He recognized the effect of the case on the defendants, who are of good character, adding: “We are sorry for the way the case has unfolded.”
Mr Aylett said: “The defendants have been under suspicion for 10 years and the prosecution is only too aware of how the proceedings will affect them and their families.
“We recognize the possible unfairness of asking that this should go on for a further substantial period.”
The judge formally acquitted the defendants of the charges.
After being acquitted of fraud charges Mr Morris said: “I am delighted that this case has finally come to an end.
“From the outset, the allegations against me were clearly false.
“It has taken the SFO 10 years to accept that this is a scam.
“I would like to thank my family, friends and colleagues for their support. I would also like to thank our legal team who have worked so steadfastly to uncover the truth and end the SFO’s flawed case.
“I was shocked when I learned that G4S had entered into a deferred prosecution agreement accusing me of wrongdoing, a completely false allegation.
“This amounts to G4S signing a false confession, plain and simple.
“The outcome of this case shows that G4S’s decision to enter into the DPA was unreasonable and misguided.
“To learn later that the SFO accepted the DPA’s untrue statement and decided to prosecute me without properly examining the underlying evidence was inconceivable.
“Of course I am glad to be cleared, but no one should have to go through this ordeal.
“Without significant changes to the DPA regime and the SFO I fear they will.”
Mr Jardine’s lawyer Joanna Dimmock said: “After 10 years of delay, mismanagement and mishandling of evidence the SFO has finally acknowledged that this matter should never have been brought.
“The SFO knew in 2021 that fundamental errors existed which affected the security of Mr Jardine’s case. This has followed a litany of disclosure disasters and breaches by the SFO of more than 60 court orders.
“Yet the SFO has wasted millions of taxpayer pounds while three men’s lives have been ruined and put on hold for nearly a decade.
“Mr Jardine is grateful that he can finally put behind him the injustice of the past nine years and begin rebuilding his future with his family.”