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The corridors of power...

Calling in recently at the Serious Fraud Office, I was reminded of how grotty the place is. The lifts are always breaking down and the corridors are frequently jammed with cardboard boxes.

Any place with an address on Elm Street was always going to play into the hands of the headline writers.

The SFO is supposed to be moving to a new building, but I gather the current headquarters has eight years left to run on its lease. You almost feel sorry for the miserable ranks of lawyers, accountants and policemen who have to work there.

At least they now let journalists into the place. Back in the days of Guinness and Blue Arrow, any inquiry from the press was met with a ‘no comment’. There was a frightening woman called Georgina who greeted calls from journalists with utter incredulity.

We were left standing outside in the rain, waiting for Asil Nadir or the Maxwells to emerge.

Press relations began to thaw under George Staple, the patrician lawyer who was SFO director at the time of the Maxwell trial, poor man. They improved further under the jovial Ros Wright, and have continued in this vein with Robert Wardle, the SFO long-server who has just marked his first anniversary as director.

Wardle can reflect on a difficult year that included ‘not guilty’ verdicts for Andrew Regan, that bloke with the dodgy hair who tried to take over the Co-op. But the SFO wins most of its lower-profile cases, even if this goes unreported.

Frustratingly, the cases with the biggest names are often the ones that come unstuck. With Equitable Life and even Shell tipped as potential targets, the SFO needs to convince the sceptics that it is no longer a nightmare on Elm Street.

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