Tesco's former UK managing director, Chris Bush, and John Scouler, its former UK food commercial director, were acquitted of fraud and false accounting after a judge at Southwark Crown Court dismissed their case due to insufficient evidence.

The outcome prompted Aziz Rahman, senior partner and founder of award-winning business crime solicitors Rahman Ravelli, to encourage individuals in business and companies to pay heed to the verdict. And he urged the SFO to consider the wisdom of its approach.

He said: "This is the first case where individuals have been placed on trial after a company has already admitted wrongdoing under a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) and paid a large financial penalty.

"From a legal point of view, it means that the authorities have brought action against both the company and senior individuals within it that were thought to be responsible as the controlling will and mind of the company - with what can now be said to be contradictory outcomes."

Mr Rahman stated that the not guilty verdicts, following the judge's ruling that there was insufficient evidence for the case to even be put to the jury, raises "real questions as to the justice in the SFO's current policy''.

He added: "It may make sense to investigators to take as many attempts as possible to bring as many people and companies to book.

"But it is almost bordering on the farcical when the outcome sees the company admitting criminal liability - effectively paying its way out of a criminal conviction - and it is subsequently ruled that there is insufficient evidence for the individuals said to be responsible to be successfully prosecuted for their actions."

Mr Rahman argued that the case was one where the authorities "wanted to both have their cake and eat it''.

He explained: "They wanted to gain convictions and also obtain a healthy financial windfall via the DPA. They gained the windfall but clearly failed when it came to securing convictions.

"Maybe the SFO will now think about the wisdom of such an approach.

"And it will be interesting to see if this verdict affects the way the authorities manage other long-running cases involving business crime, where there may be an issue of individual versus corporate liability.

"It also remains to be seen as to whether or not the acquittals in the Tesco trial will influence the SFO's decisions to prosecute any of the many individual suspects in the Rolls-Royce investigation; who are still awaiting their fate almost two years after the SFO and Rolls-Royce entered their blockbuster DPA."

And Mr Rahman added: "One thing is certain  - both companies and senior employees need specialist advice from the outset if they fear they may become subject to an investigation, given the aggressive stance the SFO is now taking in order to investigate and prosecute corporate wrongdoing.''  

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