In September 2014 the UK was still led by David Cameron’s Conservative Party coalition, with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.
Scotland was coming to terms with a divisive referendum that saw the population decide to stay within the UK despite the attempts of the SNP.
Meanwhile the prospect of Britain quitting the EU was about as remote as, well, a former reality TV star becoming president of the United States.
Yes, it has been that long (three years ago almost to the day) since Tesco’s darkest hour, when revelations of potential fraud plunged the UK’s biggest retailer into its biggest ever crisis, and shook the world of retail to the core.
But finally this week the court case will kick off, hearing allegations about what happened as three former Tesco executives, Chris Bush, John Scouler and Carl Rogberg, face prosecution by the Serious Fraud Office after an SFO investigation into Tesco’s £326m overstatement of its profits.
On 22 September 2014 Tesco issued a statement to the London Stock Exchange saying it had identified a £250m overstatement of its expected profits for the half-year, mainly relating to booking commercial deals with suppliers too early. The figure was later increased to £263m and upwards again to £326m in April 2015.
All three men due to take the stand at Southwark Crown Court have pleaded not guilty to charges that they abused their positions to inflate the figures.
They first appeared in court almost a year ago to the day, but it appears that their real day in court is finally close to arriving.
The word from court is that we will not start to begin hearing evidence of the case until later this week, as procedural matters dominate the early stages, but when it does kick off this will surely be the most high profile trial in the industry’s history.
The case is expected to last 12 gruelling weeks, with Tesco CEO Dave Lewis, who received an induction by fire just three weeks before the scandal broke, understood to be one of the witnesses to give evidence, along with the mysterious whistleblower who tipped Lewis off.
While the language and procedures of financial trials can be unfathomable at times, the fact it involves a supermarket rather than some arcane banking or trading instrument means the case is sure to be of interest not just to the grocery sector but to the wider public.
And as if getting to the bottom of what really happened at Tesco was not enough to bring drama, there’s a colourful cast of characters among the legal teams, including the woman who prosecuted children’s entertainer Rolf Harris, and a defence counsel who represented serial killer Harold Shipman.
At the same time as the three Tesco men fight to clear their name and the SFO seeks to land one of the biggest scalps in its history, the case is sure to bring unwelcome and negative publicity to Tesco, which has seen such a huge change in financial fortunes and personnel since the crisis, as it relives once again the events that stunned the Stock Exchange, in the full glare of the High Court’s very public spotlight.
The Grocer will be there every step of the way, bringing you chapter and verse on the case.