In profile: SFO director Robert Wardle

Wardle was recently announced as the successor to Rosalind Wright at the Serious Fraud Office – the first internal candidate to hold the post.

The post of SFO director is a tough one to step into. Though traditionally given to a lawyer, it still requires getting up to speed with the case load and coming to terms with the very specific, and yet very complicated task facing the agency.

Wardle, who takes over on 21 April, has been around long enough to know what’s going on and how to make the difficult decisions around which cases to pursue and which to drop.

But there’s another point about Wardle: he’s actually built a career out of being at the SFO. He was there in 1988 when it was founded, and worked his way through some of the toughest cases to have faced this small force of financial crime fighters. He worked on the famous Guinness cases and also oversaw the SFO inquiry into Polly Peck.

Wardle has been around the block and he’s committed to his work, but he will have some problems to face. First and foremost, the problem that all former members of the SFO all talk about – underfunding.

The budget for 2002-2003 stands at around £22m, a long way from the projected #85m that was deemed to be necessary to fund a now-rejected national fraud squad. That money is to pay for 233 permanent staff and contracted investigation services that have to be brought in.

Funds have increased by little more than half a million year-on-year, when the KPMG Fraud Barometer reveals that the value of frauds in UK courts has trebled. According to the SFO’s performance targets, the average caseload has to increase from 77 active cases to 110. With limited resources, that will prove difficult.

These tougher targets come at a time when any expansion to fraud crime-fighting may come in the form of added resources for the City of London police and a waning interest among regional police forces – both of which Wardle will have to work with closely.

There is one last point about Wardle. Check the Serious Fraud Office website and you’ll see that there are no archived speeches by him. Wardle has spent very little time developing a public persona. If he is to win more funds and convince people of his need, this may be the one area he will have to improve.

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