Two former senior executives at Serco, the company favoured by West Lancashire Borough Council for out-sourced leisure services, have been cleared of hiding millions in profits from electronic tagging contracts with the government after their trial collapsed following three weeks of evidence.
Serco as a company was fined more than £19 million in 2019 as part of a deferred prosecution agreement, a process by which companies accept wrongdoing and pay a fine instead of being prosecuted for corporate offences.
Neil Williams, of Gherson Solicitors, said that the development “continues the SFO’s trend of failing to prosecute individuals in relation to conduct for which a corporation has already accepted criminal liability”.
The trial collapsed when the SFO offered no further evidence after its lawyers made a failed application to adjourn the case over problems with the disclosure of evidence to the defence. The judge told jurors that the prosecutors’ view was that issues identified had “undermined the process of disclosure in this case to the extent that the trial cannot safely and fairly proceed”.
Susan Hawley, executive director of the Spotlight on Corruption campaign group, said: “This is a disaster for the SFO and for the deferred prosecution agreement regime”. She called for “an urgent review” of the system, adding that “senior executives are getting away without any sanction where there is wrongdoing on their watch. The UK needs to carefully review whether greater use of director disqualification and clawback can be used where criminal prosecution doesn’t work”.