Independent trial will test the SFO, says Michael Faulkner
' It is set to be the insurance industry trial of the decade. After four and half years, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) finally announced that charges were to be brought against Michael Bright and two other directors involved in the collapse of Independent Insurance.
Since, the insurer went spectacularly bust in June 2001, leaving brokers owing millions of pounds in return premiums and commissions, the industry has been looking for answers and justice.
While Bright and his co-defendants Philip Condon and Dennis Lomas are expected to plead not guilty, many in the industry and media will be slavering at the prospect of seeing the colourful and flamboyant Bright take the stand.
While it is of course trite to say that just because charges have been brought, it does not necessarily mean that any, or all, of the Independent trio will be found guilty.
Yet complex fraud cases are some of the most difficult ones to achieve convictions in. The SFO has been criticised for its failure to secure convictions in complex fraud cases. The collapse of several high-profile fraud trials has cost the taxpayer millions of pounds .
For example, 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. While, the SFO is reported to be appealing, it was highly embarrassing for the body, which is struggling to boost its conviction rate.
Last year, the SFO achieved a 64% conviction rate - below its recent average of 70%. And in the previous year, it achieved one of its worst results, securing convictions in only 51% of cases.
Given that the Independent case is one of the SFO's longest-running investigations it will be under pressure to produce results. IT