10 MARCH 1990, Page 25


Fraser, Guinness and the tree-surgeon show three rival models of justice


Ican find it in myself to feel sorry for Malcolm Gooding, who left the City to take up tree-surgery. He did this as a consultant, on commission only, and it was not a success. It may be that, like the tree-surgeon interviewed by Groucho Marx, he fell out of a patient. In any case he was on supplementary benefit when he turned up at Knightsbridge Crown Court to plead guilty to insider trading. He was sentenced to community service, and there are plenty of trees in the park which now need his advice, but that is the least of his punishment. The penal sentence was pas- sed long ago. He was reported, and was caught, and lost his City job, and could not get another — which is why he took 'to the trees. The Court was told that he had been `blacked' in the City. It is a striking example of one form of City justice and judgment, in a week where rival models are in show. Over in Southwark the Guin- ness case winds on its leisurely way — it .is booked to run for ten months. In Victoria Street the Department of Trade and Indus- try has released the report on House of Fraser, five years after the events it de- scribes, and a year and a half after the inspectors sent it in — for the Crown has finally decided that there are to be no prosecutions, and we can finally reach our own verdicts. We have yet to see the Guinness report, for to publish that might, so the DTI would argue, prejudice the trials. We have seen the County NatWest report, naming people and companies which have now been sent for trial. Order- ing a DTI inquiry is easy and impressive; the inconsistency, suppression and delay all come later. The procedure for DTI inquiries needs two simple reforms — a set timetable, and a commitment to publish. The head of the Serious Fraud Office grumbled over the House of Fraser affair that, as he could not subpoena witnesses from halfway round the world, he was on a hiding to nothing. Did he ever expect to call these spirits from the vasty deep? There are other sanctions than his, and, once the facts are in the open, these may well be more apposite and more effective. Ask the fallen tree-surgeon.