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Court clears Hoogstraten of killing
12:00pm Tuesday 9th December 2003 in News
Property tycoon Nicholas Hoogstraten was formally cleared today of killing a business rival.
Judge Sir Stephen Mitchell directed a verdict of not guilty to be entered on the single charge of manslaughter after prosecutor David Waters QC told the court the Crown Prosecution Service would offer no evidence.
Dressed in a charcoal pinstripe suit and a purple shirt and tie, with a black leather trenchcoat over his arm, Mr Hoogstraten, who only spoke in court to confirm his name, offered his condolences to Mohammed Raja's family as he left the Old Bailey.
He spoke to reporters after discussions with his legal advisers for more than an hour.
He said: "This is a prosecution which should never have been brought. I have had to suffer over two years of legal incompetence and dishonesty."
He thanked his recently appointed team of lawyers, headed by Geoffrey Cox QC, then thanked his family, extended family and friends who remained "steadfast during this ordeal."
Mr Hoogstraten added: "I wish to thank the staff and inmates of Belmarsh Prison for their support through this.
"Lastly, I have had between 800 and 900 members of the public contacting me while I was in prison, offering their support and assistance and legal advice. It went across the spectrum. This was a great surprise, bearing in mind the media."
Mr Hoogstraten said he replied personally to many who wrote to him but wished to thank everyone else now.
He said: "On the downside there were three or four saying you deserve it, rot in hell. Two of those were ramblers and two out of the three or four were anonymous."
Mr Hoogstraten said the police and the Crown Prosecution Service knew who the real killer of Mr Raja was and he hoped this would be fully investigated now.
He said: "All of the media who sat through the trial must have realised that most of the trial was held in camera and that was more important than the rubbish that was given in the witness box."
Mr Hoogstraten said the civil litigation with the Raja family would continue.
He said: "At the moment approximately £95 million of my assets have not been sequestrated. They have been frozen by order of the High Court. Out of that some £30 million has been sequestrated. These are not my assets, they are my family assets and trust assets."
Asked if he had any sympathy for the Raja family, he replied: "Yes. Because they have no finality."
After leaving the court building Mr Hoogstraten posed for photographs but refused to say any more.
His solicitor Robert Berg said: "Can I say on behalf of Mr Hoogstraten, he made a statement in the court and he does not wish to be discourteous or unhelpful.
"He has had quite an ordeal in the last few years. The case has been concluded and he wants to get away from here as soon as possible.
"It's difficult for him to put into words how he feels, he would just like to get away now."
Responding to a question from a reporter on how he felt, all Mr Hoogstraten replied was: "I'm numb."
He was whisked away in a taxi without saying anything else.
Today's Old Bailey hearing came after the 58-year-old multi-millionaire was released from a cell at the Old Bailey yesterday when the Appeal Court ruled the prosecution was flawed.
He had served a year of a ten-year sentence for the manslaughter of property rival Mohammed Sabir Raja.
Mr Hoogstraten was released on bail and went back into court today to have his name formally cleared.
His counsel Geoffrey Cox QC also made an application to recover his client's costs. He said Mr Hoogstraten had been receiving legal aid since September 30, so the claim would be for expenditure from July 23 and that date.
He may now consider suing for wrongful imprisonment.
Mr Hoogstraten's solicitor Robert Berg said: "Since November 18, 1999, when Nicholas Hoogstraten voluntarily surrendered to the police, he has vehemently denied any involvement in the murder of Mohammed Raja. In July of this year his conviction for manslaughter was quashed by the Court of Appeal.
"Now, four months later, a High Court judge has ruled that there is no basis for him to be tried again. The Court of Appeal ruled that there is no basis for an appeal against that decision.
"The judgement finally brings to an end Nicholas Hoogstraten's quest for justice and vindication from an accusation that was always based on the most tenuous circumstantial evidence.
"Nicholas Hoogstraten wishes to thank his recently-appointed legal team, headed by Geoffrey Cox QC, who in a short space of time mastered his case and brought it to a successful conclusion."
Mr Hoogstraten's conviction was overturned after the High Court ruled the trial judge misdirected the jury.
He was recharged with manslaughter but last week Sir Stephen Mitchell ruled the charges were not valid.
This was ratified yesterday morning at the Appeal Court by Lord Justice Kennedy.
David Waters QC, for the prosecution, told the court the conviction would either be quashed today or he would offer no evidence.
Mr Raja, a grandfather who controlled a small property empire in Brighton, was murdered in 1999 by two hitmen at his home in Sutton, Surrey.
David Croke and Robert Knapp were both convicted of murder last summer and sentenced to life imprisonment at the same trial as Mr Hoogstraten.
It was alleged the tycoon sent them round after Mr Raja accused him of fraud in their property dealings.
Mr Hoogstraten, from Framfield, always maintained his innocence and vowed to clear his name.
Mr Raja's son, Amjad, 42, said: "We are shocked and distressed that Nicholas Hoogstraten will not face trial for the suspected manslaughter of our dear father.
"In the eyes of the law Mr Hoogstraten has been absolved of any involvement in the death of our father.
"Our family has now been deprived of the opportunity to have the case heard by a jury."
The family said it would continue to pursue the civil litigation against Mr Hoogstraten started by Mr Raja.
It won a £5 million claim against him for alleged fraud but Mr Hoogstraten has appealed and a new hearing is due next March.
The Crown Prosecution Service said: "There is nothing to suggest to us that there has been any mistake on our part which has led to today's result.
"The case raised important issues of law arising from the accepted definition of manslaughter and the application of case law."
Mr Hoogstraten was bailed on condition he returned to the Old Bailey today to have the case formally dropped.
After being congratulated by his legal team, he kissed and hugged friends.
They included long-term friend Caroline Williams, who runs a number of his hotels in Hove.