Guilty verdicts will help silence agency's critics

The convictions of Michael Bright, the former boss of Independent Insurance, and two other former directors, Philip Condon and Dennis Lomas, are an important victory for the Serious Fraud Office.

The case, which the SFO spent four years investigating, was one of its longest and most complex.

The agency’s victory in the Independent case will provide much needed ammunition against its critics.

That Bright’s seven-year sentence is one of the highest secured by the SFO – only 4% of serious fraudsters have received that level of punishment – will be a further boost to the agency.

In recent years the body has come under fire for a low conviction rate and the collapse of several high-profile fraud trials at a cost of millions of pounds to the tax payer - Private Eye has unkindly dubbed it the Serious Farce Office.

In 2004 a judge threw out a case involving alleged accounting fraud by two company directors. The judge said it was "manifestly obvious" that the evidence could not support a conviction.

There were also the high-profile collapses of the prosecutions of Kevin and Ian Maxwell, and Polly Peck tycoon Asil Nadir.

More recently it has come under fire for its decision to discontinue the investigation into BAE Systems in respect of arms contracts with Saudi Arabia.

The SFO’s conviction rate has improved. Last year it achieved a 71% conviction rate, compared to 57% in the previous year and 64% in 2004/5.

Its overall conviction rate is 70% with 483 convictions resulting from the 686 defendants taken to court.