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HIGH LIFE OF THE STEEL QUEEN WHO ESCAPED TRIAL 18 YEARS AGO ..BECAUSE SHE WAS DYING; Riddle of destroyed court documents.

Byline: FIONNUALA BOURKE

TWO decades ago Midland millionairess Jean Broadhurst escaped prosecution for blackmail and fraud - because she claimed she was dying from cancer.

Today we can reveal that the secret documents which explained why the colourful racehorse owner did not stand trial with her 11 co-accused have been 'destroyed' while she continues to live the high life.

In 1987 the Attorney General controversially passed a Nolle Prosequi order - which meant the case against the woman known as the Midland Steel Queen could not proceed - because she was said to be close to death.

But unlike an acquittal, the ruling did not bar future prosecutions, meaning that Ms Broadhurst, from Lapworth, Warwickshire, could still be tried in future.

Thatnowseems increasingly unlikely after the Attorney General's office told the Sunday Mercury that papers relating to her Nolle Prosequi order have been destroyed'Following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested appears to have been destroyed,' said a spokesman. 'This is in accordance with best records management practice. We have some records of the titles of Nolle Prosequi files, but among these is no record of Broadhurst.'

The Nolle Prosequi, first issued in 1555, is rarely used, with less than half a dozen applications made by defendants to the Attorney General every year.

The requests are usually made on the grounds of serious ill-health considered permanent.

Despite being so close to death 18 years ago, Ms Broadhurst now lives life to the full and is renowned for revelling in the excitement of the horse racing circuit.

The 63-year-old businesswoman is ranked the 66th richest woman in Britain and was said to be worth pounds 35 million last year.

She and her partner, Matt Archer, have three horses racing at next month's Cheltenham Festival - Westender, Sixo and Team Tassel.

The couple's racing colours are claret and blue - in honourof their favourite team Aston Villa - which carried their horse Upgrade to victory in the 1998 Triumph Hurdle at the festival.

But back in the 1980s Ms Broadhurst faced jail over blackmail and fraud charges relating to a series of questionable business practices at her firm, European Steel Sheets, which is based in Aston, BirminghamAccusations included threatening to force company debtors to swim in vats of acid for non-payment of fees.

Ms Broadhurst was charged under her marriedname at the time, Eugene Wilma Fenton. Eleven of her colleagues were caught up in the scandal and were convicted of a variety of offences, although several were later cleared on appeal. Sentencing the defendantsJudge Malcolm Potter had launched a scathing attack on Ms Broadhurst.

'You are small people paid to do the bidding of your mistress,' he said.

'I am not ashamed to call the moral difficulty of sending the people who, in all respects except physical, are small fry to immediate terms of imprisonment to expiate the crimes of somebodywho,through the course of nature and disease, has never stood trial herself.' Shortly after she was arrested in 1983, Ms Broadhurst was rushed to hospital, and was said to be suffering from Hodgkin's Disease.

Her family later claimed that she was on her deathbed during these years.

Yet survival rates for Hodgkin's Disease, now known as Hodgkin's Lymphoma, are high at around 84 per cent, according to Cancer Research. And in the majority of cases, Hodgkin's Lymphoma can becured with modern treatments.

A spokesman for Cancer Research said: 'As a general rule, Hodgkin's Lymphoma is a very treatable form of cancer.

'Research has shown that 84 per cent of people diagnosed with the disease survive longer than five years.

'This data is taken over a long period of time, so it would include someone receiving treatment in the 1980s.'

A spokesman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: 'A Nolle Prosequi is a procedure by which the Attorney General may terminate criminal proceedings.

'The procedure is most commonly employed when the accused cannot be produced in court to plead or stand trial due to physical or mental incapability expected to be permanent.

'However, it doesn't bar against future prosecution.' Commenting on the case previously, Detective Inspector David Churchill, from West Midlands Police's Economic Crime Unit, said: 'It was a complex investigation lasting some five years.

'If it was found that Ms Broadhurst was no longer suffering from cancer and the Attorney General thought it suitable to overturn the order, there would be the will to prosecute again.'

Ms Broadhurst - who was reportedly suffering from cancer again last year - refused to comment when contacted by the Sunday Mercury

CAPTION(S):

STEEL QUEEN: Jean Broadhurst's company European Steel Sheets; KISS: Ms Broadhurst hugs jockey Carl Llewellyn; WINNER: Jean Broadhurst after her horse Upgrade won at Cheltenham in 1998
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Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Feb 27, 2005
Words:787
Previous Article:'40 years ago a convicted killer would be hanging from a rope, not out and about on university courses; FURY AS MURDERER TO BE LET OUT TO STUDY AT...
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