Two former Tesco bosses have been cleared of a £250 million fraud and false accounting scandal after the case against them collapsed.
Chris Bush, former UK managing director, and John Scouler, former UK food commercial director, were accused of manipulating figures that resulted in the supermarket giant’s profits being overstated.
The firm’s shares plummeted by nearly 12%, wiping £2 billion off the share value, when Tesco announced in September 2014 that a statement the previous month had overstated profits by about a quarter of a billion pounds.
Bush and Scouler were accused of being aware that income was being wrongly included in the company’s financial records to meet targets and make Tesco look financially healthier than it was.
But on Thursday at Southwark Crown Court, the jury was told that they were acquitted at the Court of Appeal on Wednesday and the case against them, brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), collapsed.
In a statement outside court, Bush said: “While I am delighted that my innocence has finally been established, it is troubling that Mr Scouler and I were ever charged.
“Put simply, these charges should never have been brought, and serious questions should be asked about the way in which the SFO has conducted this investigation. In my view, the SFO wholly failed to investigate this case thoroughly, independently or fairly from the outset.
“I am now looking forward to getting home and spending Christmas with my family.”
Richard Sallybanks, partner at BCL Solicitors, representing Scouler, said: “We are delighted that Mr Scouler leaves court today knowing that the judge, having heard the entirety of the prosecution evidence, reached the firm conclusion that he had no case to answer.
“That decision was obviously correct yet the SFO chose to pursue an appeal which was rejected yesterday when the Court of Appeal refused even to grant leave.”
The lawyers argued that the SFO’s prosecution was “fundamentally flawed” and that the men should never have been charged.
“Mr Scouler has maintained since the outset of this investigation that he was not guilty of fraud and false accounting, and those close to him always knew that to be the case,” Sallybanks added.
“We are simply pleased that, after four years, this has now been confirmed by the Court of Appeal upholding the judge’s decision that he should be acquitted of all charges. This is a very significant defeat for the SFO – and a notable win for BCL Solicitors and the two ex-Tesco directors.”
The acquittal came after trial judge Sir John Royce dismissed the case brought by the SFO, bringing the trial to a halt after the prosecution presented its case.
The SFO went to the Court of Appeal regarding the dismissal, but its appeal was dismissed on Wednesday and the men were cleared by Court of Appeal judges.
Scouler, 50, of The Park, St Albans, and Bush, 52, of Four Acres, Green End Road, Radnage, High Wycombe, were each cleared of one count of fraud and another of false accounting, but it could not be reported until the jury was informed.
During the trial, the jury was told the case was a retrial, and that a third man, former UK finance director Carl Rogberg, is charged with identical offences but was not currently well enough to stand trial.
A decision will be made in due course about what action should be taken in relation to Rogberg following the acquittals of Scouler and Bush.
The trial of the pair, which began on October 8, had been expected to last three months.