SFO - Serious Fraud Office

The Guinness case

In 1986 Guinness was involved in one of the most notorious take-over battles seen in the City. 

There were rumours that the Guinness plc bid in 1986 for The Distillers Company plc was tainted by an unlawful share support operation by them, which involved the company offering secret indemnities (from its own funds) against losses to "supporters" of the bid which resulted in a dramatic rise in the price of Guinness shares.  Guinness chief executive Ernest Saunders denied any knowledge of it. 

Following an examination of the bid by DTI inspectors, the SFO opened an investigation which resulted in Mr Saunders and three other defendants (Anthony Parnes, Gerald Ronson and Jack Lyons) being convicted in 1990.  Ernest Saunders, who was the only defendant who opted to take the witness stand, appealed against his conviction because of evidence acquired by the DTI using compulsory powers was used against him.   However his conviction stood.