NEWS
30/12/2011 19:06 GMT

New Year Honours List 2012: Former Prisoner Gerald Ronson Awarded CBE

It is rare to see a former prisoner bestowed with a New Year Honour - but property tycoon Gerald Ronson has bucked the trend.

The 72-year-old, who is awarded a CBE, was convicted in 1990 for his involvement in the Guinness share-trading scandal and served six months of a one-year jail sentence.

He bounced back from the scandal - and a near collapse of his business prompted by a US asset crash in the 1990s - and is now known as much for his property giant Heron International, bountiful charity work and for being the uncle of chart-topping musician Mark Ronson.

Mr Ronson founded the Heron Group at the age of 17 in 1956. The company, which he still leads, built up a portfolio across Europe of 160 buildings in nine countries, including the 46-storey office building Heron Tower, on Bishopsgate in London.

The father of four and grandfather of six is also credited with introducing self-service petrol stations to the UK, through his Snax 24 business, which was founded in 1966 and now has around 74 properties.

But his years of success were derailed when in 1990 he was jailed and fined £5 million for false accounting, theft and conspiracy to contravene the 1958 Prevention of Fraud Act for his part in a share-support scam.

The fraud had the effect of boosting the Guinness share price. As it rose, the group's offer to Scottish drinks company Distillers' shareholders increased in value, helping Guinness fend off a bid from rival Argyll and secure the deal.

Mr Ronson rose above the setback of a criminal conviction and jail sentence, even giving business lessons to fellow inmates in Ford open prison.

He said later: "If you're a lion in a jungle, you can manage a local zoo down in Sussex.

"You don't meet the nicest people in prison, it's not a five-star hotel, but if you have to deal with it, you have to deal with it."

He also launched a determined campaign to clear his name.

He eventually won a European Court of Human Rights ruling that his trial had been unfair, although he failed to get the House of Lords to overturn his conviction.

While he was in prison, Heron lost nearly £1 billion with the collapse of interests in the US, but Ronson managed to hold on to the business and keep it going. His current personal wealth is estimated at more than £250 million.

But it is his philanthropy that has earned him the CBE.

He has raised more than £100 million for charities, including £30 million in personal donations to organisations such as the Community Security Trust, the NSPCC and the Prince's Trust.

The Gerald Ronson Foundation, to which he has bequeathed all his Heron shares, has donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital, the National History Museum and Cancer Research among others.

It is not known whether he is the first person with a conviction to be awarded an honour, although a Cabinet Office spokesman said a nomination involving someone who has served their time and gone on to do outstanding work should be considered on its own merits.