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All four defendants in the marathon Guinness trial were facing jail after the jury returned “guilty” verdicts following five days of deliberations.

On the 112th day of their trial, which was the most expensive court action ever brought at that time; Ernest Saunders, Gerald Ronson, Sir Jack Lyons and Anthony Parnes were convicted on all but one of the charges they faced.

The men were accused of involvement in a conspiracy to drive up the price of shares in Irish group Guinness, makers of the eponymous stout, during a 1986 takeover battle for the drinks company, Distillers, the largest producer of Scotch Whisky in the world whose brands included Johnnie Walker, Haig, Black and White, Teachers, Talisker and other Scotch Whisky’s as well as Gordon’s Gin.

Former Guinness chairman Ernest Saunders was the central figure in the trial. He earned widespread praise for pulling off the £2.6bn takeover of Distillers, trumping a bid from foods group Argyll but there was no doubt that “dirty tricks” were the order of the day.

But Saunders’ downfall came about after US stockbroker Ivan Boesky was arrested on charges of insider dealing. In a plea bargain, Boesky told the US authorities of the share dealing arrangement involving Guinness and an investigation was started.

In its case against the four, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) alleged Saunders had agreed to pay stockbroker Anthony Parnes £3.35m for his role in the affair. They also alleged that Lyons, a financier, had received £3m for his part in the scheme and that companies in Ronson’s Heron group, which bought £25m worth of Guinness shares during the bid, were in line for a £5m “success fee” for their support.

Saunders, Ronson and Lyons were convicted of conspiracy, theft and false accounting and Parnes was found guilty on the theft and false accounting charges.

Saunders, Ronson and Parnes were sentenced to periods ranging from 12 months to five years and Ronson was also fined £5m. Lyons escaped jail because of ill health but was stripped of his knighthood and fined £3m.

Saunders was freed after only 10 months of his 30 month sentence when doctors diagnosed him as suffering from dementia. It must be the only recorded case of dementia cured by release from prison.

In 1996 Saunders’ conviction was ruled “unsafe” by the European Court of Human Rights. This was on the grounds that he was obliged to answer questions put to him by DTI investigators under company law or be guilty of a criminal offence if he refused. It was only the information gained by questioning him that provided the evidence used against him in the court case.

In 2000 the European Court reached the same verdict in cases brought by the remaining three but in 2001 the UK’s Court of Appeal threw out the men’s claim not to have received a fair trial.

The case caused great changes in the way that the takeovers are policed but lost in the legal action are the stories of thousands of people thrown out of work when, despite “guarantees” that there would be no closures the opposite happened. Similarly Saunders gave assurances that the HQ of the new group would remain in Scotland, and I remember driving past a building in Edinburgh which was having Guinness signs erected on it. The minute the takeover was complete the signs disappeared and the HQ never was established in Scotland.

Major beneficiaries of the debacle were Murphy’s, the “other” brewer of Irish Stout, and rival Scotch whisky distillers as many pubs stopped selling the products of Guinness or Distillers.

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