The collapse of one of Britain’s most expensive criminal prosecutions has left taxpayers footing an estimated bill of £65m.
A judge finally called a halt to the complex fraud hearing after defence lawyers accused the prosecution of withholding vital evidence which had denied the defendants the chance of a fair trial.
It is believed to be one of the most expensive cases to collapse in British legal history and is likely to outstrip the £60m cost of the recent Jubilee Line extension trial. The judge’s decision to halt proceedings three years after charges were first brought against the Manchester-based businessmen casts serious doubt on the ability of criminal justice agencies to prosecute complex fraud in this country.
The legal aid bill – believed to be more than £6m – will also raise further concerns that the Government has failed to stop some lawyers from making fortunes out of publicly funded work. The massive cost of the failed prosecution could rise.
A further 18 similar prosecutions into complex VAT fraud could also collapse after the judge in the case, Mr Justice Crane, gives his full reasons for halting proceedings at a High Court hearing today.
Earlier this week, the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith QC, said he was to press ahead with plans to abolish juries in complex fraud trials because of jurors’ inability to comprehend complicated financial evidence. However, the decision to halt the prosecution in this latest allegation of major fraud was taken before a jury had been empanelled.