§ Mr. John Marshall
To ask the Attorney-General when the Serious Fraud Office (1) first suggested to the counsel to Mr. Roger Levitt that he plead guilty to only some of the charges; and if he will list the charges concerned;
(2) what reasons underlay the decision of the Serious Fraud Office not to proceed with the theft charges against Roger Levitt;333W
(3) what was the estimated cost to public funds of the Roger Levitt case;
(4) what actions the Serious Fraud Office took in the Roger Levitt case which were subsequently described as wholly illegal by the trial judge;
(5) whether the Serious Fraud Office knew when it accepted the guilty plea by Roger Levitt that the judge would impose a non-custodial sentence.
§ The Attorney-General
In every complex fraud matter it is necessary to ensure that the counts in the indictment are the minimum reasonably necessary for the proper and effective presentation of the case. No counts of theft were in fact alleged in the indictment, although there were a number of counts other than fraudulent trading including counts of obtaining property by deception. An initial decision to proceed on a single count of fraudulent trading was taken in the light of general guidance given by the Court of Appeal and reviewed after the trial judge had given directions limiting the scope of the evidence. A subsequent application to re-join several substantive counts was refused.
No such suggestion of the nature referred to by my hon. Friend was made by or on behalf of the Serious Fraud Office. The offer by Roger Levitt to plead guilty to fraudulent trading on the basis upon which he in fact pleaded was first made on Monday 22 November 1993 by his leading counsel to leading counsel for the Crown.
The Serious Fraud Office was not aware that the judge would impose a non-custodial sentence when it informed the defence that the proposed plea of guilty by Roger Levitt was acceptable. Sentencing is a matter entirely for the judge. The prosecution can never change its mind about accepting a plea on the grounds that a sentence is too lenient.
The trial judge never described any action by the Serious Fraud Office as "wholly illegal" and never criticised the SFO in any way at all.
The best estimate of the cost of the Serious Fraud Office arising from this case as yet available is approximately £1.4 million. I have at present no information about other costs and will write to my hon. Friend.