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Tycoon cleared of killing after judge's blunder.

PROPERTY baron Nicholas van Hoogstraten - jailed for killing a business rival - walked free from court yesterday amid protests from the dead man's family.

He had served a year of a 10-year sentence after he was convicted of the manslaughter of Mohammed Raja.

Hoogstraten was freed after winning a lengthy legal battle to clear his name.

He first won a retrial last year because of a 'flawed' direction to the jury by the original trial judge and then had the case against him thrown out completely.

But Mr Raja's son Amjad, 42, said his family was 'shocked' by the decision and called for an investigation.

Hoogstraten left the Old Bailey yesterday protesting his innocence. Asked if he would be celebrating with champagne, he replied curtly, 'I don't drink.'

He was congratulated by his legal team and hugged friends who greeted him.

His solicitor Robert Berg said Hoogstraten would make a personal statement after he returns to court to be formally cleared.

The man once described as Britain's youngest millionaire may now consider suing for wrongful imprisonment after a case which is estimated to have cost up to pounds 10m.

Hoogstraten, 58, from Uckfield, East Sussex, was found not guilty of murder but convicted of the manslaughter of Mr Raja at the Old Bailey last year.

He won the right to a retrial when his conviction was quashed in July by the Court of Appeal.

His lawyers had successfully argued that Hoogstraten's conviction last year was unsafe after a 'flawed' direction to the jury by the then trial judge.

Hoogstraten's defence team then went on to argue that there was no case left for him to answer at all. It had no basis in law. There was a complete lack of evidence on which a jury could convict on manslaughter.

He could not have foreseen that the attack on Mr Raja - carried out by henchmen Robert Knapp and David Croke - would inevitably end in death, they asserted.

Croke and Knapp had stabbed and shot the 62-year- old businessman at point blank range at his home in Sutton, South London, in July 1999. They were jailed for life for murder.

Judge Sir Stephen Mitchell agreed with Hoogstraten's counsel, Geoffrey Cox QC, that there was no foundation for a manslaughter case against Hoogstraten.

As Hoogstraten was freed on bail to return to have the case against him formally thrown out by Judge Mitchell, Mr Raja's family called for an investigation of issues arising from the case.

Mr Raja's son Amjad, 42, said later that his family were 'shocked' by the development.

In a statement, he said, 'Our family have now been deprived of an opportunity to have the case heard by a jury on what we see as a legal technicality.

'The family are devastated that the extremely hard work of the police officers involved in the case has been totally undone by what we believe to be a catalogue of mistakes by the Crown Prosecution Service which resulted in today's decision.

'We also do not understand how or why key witnesses for the prosecution decided to retract or decline to give evidence at the trial, nor do we understand how some of the defence costs of a self-promoted multi-millionaire were funded by legal aid.

'We feel that these matters should be promptly and fully investigated by the authorities.'

The Crown Prosecution Service responded, '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.'

New legal aid provisions are understood to allow defendants to receive aid automatically. After the case they are means tested on what they repay.

Mr Berg said, 'Since Nov- ember 18, 1999, when Mr van Hoogstraten voluntarily surrendered to the police, he has adamantly denied any involvement whatever in the murder of Mohammed Raja.

'Now, four years later, a High Court judge has ruled there is no basis for him to be retried again.

'Today's judgement brings to an end Nicholas van Hoogstraten's quest for justice and vindication from an accusation that was based on tenuous and circumstantial accusations.'

ONCE heralded as Britain's youngest millionaire, Nicholas van Hoogstraten has never made any secret of his robust approach to business.

He appears to revel in his image as a ruthless operator.

In 1968 he was sentenced to four years' jail and went to Wormwood Scrubs after hiring others to firebomb the home of a business associate, a Jewish synagogue clergyman, whom he claimed owed him money.

The judge in that trial described the young property tycoon as a self-styled 'emissary of Beelzebub'.

Van Hoogstraten himself once suggested the pursuit of wealth was 'to separate oneself from the riffraff' and in his own terms he has been very successful.

His fortune, sometimes estimated at pounds 200m, sees him regularly featured in lists of Britain's wealthiest people.

He has homes in Barbados, St Lucia, Florida and Cannes.

He was born in 1946 in Sussex. His father was a shipping agent.

He left school at 16 and joined the Royal Navy.

A year later he embarked on a business career, buying property.

By the time he was 22, he was reputed to have had 350 properties in Sussex alone.

He gained a hard reputation and was accused of using strong-arm tactics against tenants of slum properties which he bought for redevelopment, tenants he regarded as 'filth'.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 9, 2003
Words:914
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