Michael Bright stands firm under cross examination from lawyers acting for the Serious Fraud Office
?Michael Bright returned to the witness box last week, following his dramatic near collapse on Friday.
The former Independent boss, a 62-year-old diabetic, stood firm throughout several days of cross examination from Andrew Baillie, QC for the Serious Fraud Office.
Bright complained several times of faintness and “losing focus”, prompting the judge to order that he be given a break from questioning each hour.
Although Bright said several times that he could not remember key discussions or moments in the years leading up to Independent’s disastrous collapse in 2001, he was vigorous in his denial of a conspiracy to defraud.
He admitted that he had been aware of abuse of the notorious whiteboard – used to record large claims before they were registered – and lists of unregistered reserves.
But he insisted that he had been trying to return order and accuracy to the running of the company, not cover up the problems.
Bright, who broke down in tears on the first day of his defence as he told of the personal losses he suffered through the collapse of his company, also admitted that he had been an overbearing manager.
“It was hell on earth,” he confessed, as he told of how he had tried to solve the company’s problems.
Yet Bright’s senior staff came in for heavy criticism from the former boss, with him accusing them of “bastardising” figures and keeping the truth from him.
He said that one of the disputed ways of recording figures was something certain members of staff “dreamt up between them” to “keep him quiet”.
Bright and his former deputy managing director Philip Condon and finance director Dennis Lomas deny conspiracy to defraud directors, employees, auditors, reinsurers, shareholders, policyholders, creditors and others who had a legitimate interest in knowing the financial condition of Independent Insurance Company. The three deny the charges.
The trial began on 30 May and continues
Adding fizz to the frustration
Michael Bright had recovered somewhat by last Tuesday, and appeared more confident in tackling the slow, assured tone of Andrew Baillie QC, prosecuting, writes James Dean.
But Bright was taking no chances, and the murmur of voices in the court was occasionally interrupted with a fizzing noise as he opened bottle after bottle of sparkling water, which he drank throughout.
For most of the week, the only voices heard in court two were those of Bright and Baillie.
Bright stood firm in the face of Baillieâ€™s questioning, at times appearing frustrated with the QC, his flushed face reddening further, but he kept his cool nonetheless.
Judge Rivlin appeared genuinely concerned about Brightâ€™s health, allowing him hourly breaks on Friday. However, indicative of his improved condition, Bright chose to continue when offered a break by the judge on Tuesday.
He seemed keen to get on with his defence following the previous weekâ€™s interruptions.
In the courtroom, the ranks of barristers, solicitors and clerks sat subdued as Baillie took centre stage. The clear, measured passages of his arguments were capped off with pointed accusations as to Brightâ€™s conduct; accusations which Bright often refuted with a simple â€œnoâ€.
On occasions, Bright would interrupt Baillie, shaking his head in apparent frustration. The pace of proceedings was teeth grindingly slow, with Baillie subjecting the jury to a constant barrage of contracts, memoranda, faxes and handwritten notes, which faded in and out of the computer screens set around the courtroom.
The documents were compared and contrasted, highlighted, and flipped around on screen regularly throughout the day.
Nevertheless, the jury appeared to be engaged in proceedings, especially when Baillie posed his accusations to Bright after long lines of questioning.
Jurors exchanged glances and looked towards the bench, and then to Bright, who more often than not took a short pause before responding to Baillieâ€™s attack.
The complexity of the issues at hand drew puzzled looks from some jury members, who face the prospect of sitting on the case for months to come.
Even Bright needed clarification from Baillie on a number of issues.