A BUSINESSMAN and a senior Torfaen council officer cleared of fraud spoke of their relief after a jury unanimously acquitted them yesterday.

Farooq Dastgir, 53, ran an IT centre dealing with data from Torfaen Council, Monmouthshire Council and Gwent Police before he was suspended on full pay in 2011.

He and his co-defendant Gary Inchliffe were accused of false accounting during a high profile three-week trial in which the prosecution claimed Mr Dastgir used council money to pay for a South Wales Argus supplement advertising digital developments in Torfaen which he was told should be funded through private sponsorship.

The prosecution had claimed  Mr Inchliffe, 52, had agreed to submit a “sham” invoice of £10,000 for cabling work which had never been, and would never be, done. His company Camelot IT South Wales would use the money to sponsor the supplement, the court was told.

But the defence said the invoice was legitimate and related to work which would be done in the future. This kind of payment was not unusual, the court heard.

A jury took less than three hours to return its verdict at Cardiff Crown Court. Following the trial, Mr Dastgir, of Coed Camlas, New Inn, said: “I’m very relieved. The whole community has stood with me – they’re pleased to see that justice has happened.

“I hope that everything goes Ok now. The thing that really hurt me was that nobody spoke to me. I was just sent out, outcast. I would have loved anybody to speak to me for five minutes.

“The last two and a half years have been a great strain for me and my family, whose love and support has kept me strong.

“Had my employees been allowed to discuss these allegations with me before the police investigation was commenced I am confident that no criminal charges would ever have been proffered.

“I have done nothing wrong. I have given 28 years of loyal service to Torfaen and I hope I am able to return to my post in the near future.

“I’m sorry I can’t talk a lot at the moment because I have to go through an internal disciplinary process. I would like to thank my legal team and my colleagues and friends, whose faith in me has never wavered during this difficult time.”

Gary Inchliffe, of Beechcroft, Trelewis, said the whole process had been “horrendous; a nightmare. I’m just so relieved that my wife and I and the company can now put all of this behind us and concentrate on the business again. It has been an extremely difficult two and a half years and caused both physical and emotional strain. I am so grateful to all those who believed and supported me throughout this period.”

Mr Inchliffe’s barrister Adrian Maxwell said following the trial: “This investigation and trial was a highly unfortunate waste of public funds ending in a three-week trial of two men, two hard-working men, who were servants of their community.

"It should never have been brought before the criminal justice system. There may have been errors made by each party in this case but they were never matters that should have been subject to the criminal justice system. Perhaps lessons will have been learned as to investigations into men and women in local authorities trying to serve the public.”

A Torfaen County Borough Council spokesman said Mr Dastgir would now face an internal investigation: “Following the crown court verdict, there remain outstanding internal processes which must take place to determine the appropriate course of action.”

Earlier in the trial Judge Rhys Rowlands directed jurors to return not guilty verdicts for two of the charges facing Mr Dastgir, of false accounting and misconduct in public office.