Thursday 6th December, 2018
Two former Tesco executives accused of masterminding a fraud that triggered the biggest financial crisis in the supermarket chain’s 100-year history have been cleared after the judge threw out the case stating the prosecution case was “so weak” it should not be before a jury.
Chris Bush and John Scouler were acquitted after the judge Sir John Royce dismissed the case brought by the Serious Fraud Office in the wake of the 2014 accounting scandal that wiped £1.5bn off the value of Tesco shares in one day.
“I concluded that, in certain crucial areas, the prosecution’s case was so weak that it should not be left for a jury’s consideration,” Royce said of his decision to abort the two-month trial which he added was “the end of a long saga”.
Bush, who at 52 had spent his entire adult life working for Tesco until being suspended in 2014, welcomed the end of a “four-year ordeal”. The court heard that Bush had “dedicated his life” to the supermarket. He said he was looking forward to sleep and “spending Christmas with my family” now that it was over.
Scouler was also “very happy” after the men were both cleared of one count of fraud and another of false accounting.
The case stemmed from one of the most shocking episodes in recent corporate history, shortly after Dave Lewis took over as chief executive, replacing Philip Clarke, who had presided over a big decline in Tesco’s fortunes. On 22 September 2014 Lewis told the City that forensic accountants and lawyers had been called in to scrutinise its books after a whistleblower claimed payments from suppliers were being manipulated to make the grocer’s finances look healthier.
At the time Tesco said the rogue practice had inflated profits by £250m.
Bush and Scouler, who in 2014 was Tesco’s UK food commercial director, both stood trial last year but the case was abandoned before the jury was sent out. The SFO pursued a second trial which started two months ago.
The SFO fought the dismissal but the defendants, who Royce said were “two men hitherto of impeccable character”, were acquitted by court of appeal judges on Wednesday. This could not be reported until the jury was discharged on Thursday.