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KENT AND OFFICER FACE MALICIOUS PROSECUTION DAMAGES TRIAL

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Case no: FC3 96/5172/E ...
Case no: FC3 96/5172/E

The appeal court has opened the way for a high court hearing that could end up with Kent CC and one of its senior transport officers being ordered to pay 'substantial' damages to a bus company operator who claims he was 'maliciously prosecuted' on baseless fraud charges.

Peter John Moon was managing director and majority shareholder of the Trident bus company which took over three Chatham-based bus routes from the council in October 1986.

But, less than six months later, on April 8 1987, police swooped on Trident's offices and Mr Moon was arrested.

One of Trident's bus routes, the No. 142, was operated under a guaranteed revenue contract, and Mr Moon was charged with four counts of deliberately under-stating revenue to obtain subsidy payments from the county council, the court heard.

But on the third day of the businessman's Maidstone Crown Court trial in July 1988, the judge directed the jury to acquit him on all charges.

Lord Justice McCowan told the appeal court yesterday that it was Mr Moon's case that the council had 'no reasonable or probably cause' for making the accusations against him and that he had been 'maliciously prosecuted'.

He claims the accounting figures on which the prosecution was based were 'inaccurate and misleading', and had been 'massaged to make them look damning'.

Information had been withheld until the trial's third day which would have 'blown the case apart' had it been disclosed earlier, the businessman alleges.

But the appeal judge said that in May 1993 a high court judge had 'struck out' Mr Moon's malicious prosecution claim against the county council and one of its senior transport officers, Geoffrey Malcolm Walters, who was the principal prosecution witness at his trial.

Judge Wilcox did so on the basis that it was neither the county council nor Mr Walters who had mounted the prosecution, but the police.

Overturning that decision and re-instating Mr Moon's case, Lord Justice McCowan said the police had been left with virtually no choice but to prosecute on the information given to them by the county council and Mr Walters.

The county council and Mr Walters had been 'in substance responsible for the prosecution', he said.

Lord Justice Neill and Lord Justice Auld agreed that Mr Moon's appeal be allowed, with the result that his malicious prosecution claim against the council and Mr Walters will now proceed to a full trial.

The court directed that the case should be heard in the high court, by a judge sitting without a jury.

Outside court Mr Moon's solicitor, Mr Jonathan Crosskey, said the businessman was 'delighted' with the appeal's court's ruling.

He said it would be a long time before the case was heard, but the amount of damages claimed from the county council and Mr Walters was 'substantial'.

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