After years of hard work, the SFO achieved a significant boost with the Independent convictions. Ellen Bennett sums up the case

When the jury delivered its verdict last week, it bought to a close one of the biggest investigations the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) had ever undertaken, spanning six years, more than 100,000 pages of evidence and 280 witness interviews.

SFO assistant director Graham More was in court when the verdict was delivered. “There was a sense of satisfaction, and also of relief,” he says.

“These big cases are a strain on everyone because they are very complicated and you can never be certain you are going to win, even when you know you should.”

Independent Insurance, the UK’s ninth largest insurance company, spectacularly collapsed in June 2001. Hundreds of jobs were lost, thousands of shareholders lost investments and over £366m has since been paid out under the statutory compensation scheme.

It quickly came to light that claims data had been withheld from the company’s actuaries and there had been incomplete disclosure of agreements between the company and its reinsurers.

The SFO and the City of London Police set to work. There was a core team of around seven at the SFO, but many more people were involved over the years – at the busiest periods, the office even had to take on temporary staff to deal with the workload.

“It was the biggest insurance fraud we have ever prosecuted,” says More. “You just don’t expect a quoted UK insurer to collapse.”

But the relief the team felt when the verdict finally came in was qualified by a realisation of the human cost, and the stark sight of Bright, Lomas and Condon’s friends and families crying in the court.

“To some extent, it’s an anti-climax,” admits More. “No one gets pleasure from seeing people sent down. They were allowed to sit in the court with their lawyers for most of the trial, which made it more civilised. But when they were about to hear the verdicts, and the security guards were brought in, you could see the seriousness of it dawning on the three men – the colour drained out of their faces, and there were gasps in the court when the verdicts were read out.”

Nevertheless, the SFO team is secure in the knowledge that it did the right thing, and will soon be planning a night out to celebrate.

More has just one regret: “The sentences should have been longer,” he says.