It has been billed as the insurance trial of the decade. But on a damp Friday afternoon in the soulless confines of Southwark Crown Court, the prosecution's case against the flamboyant founder of the collapsed Independent Michael Bright got off to a slow start.

Not that it mattered. While the barristers got on with the dull procedural task of discussing document bundles and the trial timetable, the real draw was Bright himself.

One former Independent employee in the public gallery said he had come to see if "Brighty had lost any weight".

Well it certainly appeared that the pressure of a four-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office hadn't taken too much of a toll. He appeared tanned, his pin-stripe suit fitted snugly and his cheeks were florid. Paul Condon, Independent's former deputy managing director, too looked healthy.

Only Dennis Lomas, the finance director at Independent, looked as if the strain might be getting to him. Lomas was a rather sad sight as he sat in the dock. Sitting motionless in the dock, he just looked grey and rather forlorn, shoulders slumped.

Intriguingly he sat apart from Condon and Bright, and barely exchanged a word with them. What might that say about their respective defence cases?

In contrast, Bright appeared bullish, even arrogant. He sat arms folded defiantly across his broad gut, watching the proceedings unfold. Condon was more animated - at times sitting forward watching intently, at other times whispering to Bright.

Trial expected at Easter next year
The trial of Michael Bright, Philip Condon and Dennis Lomas is expected to begin around Easter next year and last up to six months.

At the preliminary hearing on Friday, the trial's timetable was set out. A senior judge will try the case.

The trio is accused of defrauding directors, shareholders, auditors and customers in the lead-up to the company's collapse, by misleading them about the true extent of its liabilities.

All three have indicated pleas of not guilty.

A further preparatory hearing is expected at the end of July.