The headlines were all about Craig Whyte and his brief and controversial tenure at the head of Rangers Football Club. More to the point, they were all about the remarkable verdict at the end of a seven-week trial which saw him walk free.
Whyte had spent 31 days, glassy-eyed, watching and listening as his counsel, Donald Findlay, turned the testimony of prosecution witnesses to build a successful defence. Findlay expertly weaved a picture of his client almost as victim rather than perpetrator of the fraud with which he had been accused.
Findlay was brilliant. He played the role of the flamboyant defence QC to a tee. Theatrical at times, he even petted his lip when the judge, Lady Stacey, pulled him up on issues of 'relevance'. This was the third time her ladyship had rebuked him, and in front of the jury too, he complained.
'This is what these people have done to your club, Sir David,' he told the former Rangers chairman David Murray, pausing for effect before adding: '...our club.' For yes, lest we forget, Findlay once served as vice-chairman of the club he was to refer to frequently as 'an institution', until that unfortunate incident in 1999, involving a fan party, a microphone, and the singing of one of those songs that have caused European football authorities to impose penalties on Rangers in the past.
The defence amounted to a classic example of the art. Over 31 days of evidence involving 17 witnesses, Findlay took the testimony of prosecution witnesses and used it to create a convincing alternative narrative.
To the prosecution, this seemed straightforward. Craig Whyte had given Sir David and his numerous advisers the impression that he had the wherewithal to take over Rangers. Later it emerged that Whyte had effectively mortgaged the club's future season ticket income and taken a loan from Ticketus to pay off the £18 million debt owed to Lloyds Bank.
In addition, the Crown alleged that Whyte had breached a 'financial assistance' provision in the Companies Act by basically using the company's own money to take it over. So far, so straightforward, one might think.
The defence scenario was dramatically different. It became clear that Rangers had been in deep trouble for some time before Murray started negotiating with Whyte in autumn 2010.
Witnesses admitted that the Murray group had decided not to invest further in the club years previously, in 2004. This had followed an expensive rights issue which raised £50 million for the club (towards reducing its then considerable debt). The problem was that the issue had been under-written by the group, who had simply borrowed the money from its ever-friendly lender, Bank of Scotland.
Consider this for a moment: Rangers Football Club, in considerable debt, is handed £50 million towards reducing that debt, the money coming from yet more borrowing. Small wonder, perhaps, that the Murray Group's overall debt reached a mind-boggling £900 million after the financial crisis of 2008.
At the same time, Rangers and Murray Group had been deep into a Employee Benefit Trust (EBT) scheme which benefited highly paid executives and many players. This became known as the 'big tax case', whose outcome is still to be decided by the Supreme Court, after two appeals.
By 2010, when hundreds of emails were being exchanged between the Murray and Whyte groups in anticipation of a takeover deal, Rangers were being chased by HM Revenue and Customs for £2.2 million in what became known as the 'wee tax case' involving the avoidance of PAYE and national insurance.
Rangers were caught in a pincer movement driven by circumstance: the financial crisis of 2008 led to the near collapse of Bank of Scotland and its forced rescue by Lloyds Banking Group at the urging of the Treasury, and the massive indebtedness of its parent group.
'Project Charlotte' was created to force financial medicine down Murray's corporate throat. Gone were the good old boys at the Mound, who had indulged highly leveraged business deals involving many of Scotland's favoured entrepreneurs, led by Sir David. The unsentimental men at Lloyds wanted out of football altogether, and insisted among other conditions that they have a say in the appointment of directors at Rangers.
The club's debt was reduced from £33 million to £18 million whilst a marketing brochure was produced by the accountancy group PwC in early 2010. The brochure failed to attract billionaires or Asian magnates, like so many of the big English clubs. Murray's then in-house corporate counsel, David Horne, told the court that several would-be bidders were rejected.
What a colourful bunch they were: a Russian with supposed connections to organised crime, two others who produced a supporting letter from a European bank that turned out to be forged, various property speculators. All of them failed due diligence, and pretty quickly.
By the time Craig Whyte arrived on the scene, Murray's in-house team and the bank had just about given up hope. Whyte and Sir David spent a couple of days 'getting to know each other' in the south of France before their various highly paid advisers got to work.
During the trial it became a daily source of frustration and grim humour for judge, jury and counsel to battle their way through the thousands of pages of letters and emails produced in evidence. At one stage a witness was asked to read the entire 27 pages of the 'share purchase agreement', replete with jargon and seemingly poorly drafted in places, into the record. Jurors were handed bulky print-outs, and asked to read screens as court assistants struggled manfully to locate page numbers and other key points within the exhibits online. To make things more complicated, some pages were numbered differently in print than on-screen. This is how a modern-day fraud trial goes, beset with the sheer weight of electronic evidence that must be ploughed through.
Findlay's case was this: Rangers was in far worse nick than its owners suggested. It had been run by a board whose answer to competitive pressures seemed to be simply to demand more cash from the bank, from the owner, from anybody but their own resources. No additional investment came in. The bank's new restrictions meant there was no more water in the well.
Cross-examination revealed that Rangers themselves had been using Ticketus as a lender of final resort. Hitting the limit of its bank facility, the club turned to Ticketus, for instance, when Rapid Vienna demanded upfront payment for a player, Nikica Jelavić. The club used season ticket income when it came in to make sure Ticketus was repaid before 30 June, so the loans would not show up in its accounts. Ticketus got 16% of the tickets to sell, and kept 10% of the income. It was the footballing equivalent of a pay-day loan.
When more tax liabilities emerged, Murray's price for Rangers dropped from £5.5 million to just £1. Meanwhile, the club's ignoring of a tax inspector's suggestions that they pay some of the £2.2 million 'wee tax case' on account meant that the sum had risen to £2.8 million within months, and threatened to reach £3.9 million when even more interest and penalties would be added.
Then there was the £1.7 million for 'health and safety' repairs needed urgently at Ibrox. How long had they been known about, asked Findlay as he sought to paint Rangers as a football club living beyond its means and failing to address issues of bank debt, fan safety and tax bills. It was an effective portrayal.
Findlay argued successfully that the 'financial assistance' charge failed on the grounds that the company – Rangers – actually benefited from Whyte's acquisition in May 2011. After all, reasoned the QC, paying off Lloyds reduced a considerable burden.
He contended that Whyte's plan was all going OK until the club failed to qualify for the Champions League in 2011, having been knocked out in Sweden. 'Basically they should never have gone to Malmo,' asserted Findlay. It remains a matter of record that under Whyte, Rangers entered administration in early 2012, with yet more unpaid tax, and ultimately went into liquidation.
The Crown Office has not come out of this well. This trial began five years after the original allegations emerged. Initially the fraud charges included several accused, most of them deserted. The decision to prosecute Whyte on reduced charges has been questioned. When he left the court, grinning before the massed cameras outside, few observers were surprised. The Crown case had disintegrated without the defence calling a single witness.
The picture painted in court depicted an amoral professional class: lawyers, accountants, consultants, all willing to go along with things in exchange for large fees. Two of Murray's advisers served on the Rangers board while being promised bonuses to secure the club's disposal. David Horne conceded in court that nothing was spent on due diligence on Whyte, barring a perfunctory internet search. He had respectable professional advisers, the reasoning went. It is clear from the evidence that the Murray group doubted whether Whyte had the money, but under pressure to get a deal done, they held their noses and averted their eyes. Sir David himself told one of them immediately before the deal was done that Whyte was 'the only show in town'.
The Rangers story is one of hubris and corporate failure. Sir David's success – as an entrepreneur and a football club chairman – depended on the ever-spinning plates of debt and largely on his own chutzpah. When the crunch came finally – hitting his debt-ridden property businesses and his hugely leveraged football club simultaneously – the end was nigh.
An expensive investigation and trial has led to a not guilty verdict and embarrassment for the Crown. The greatest discomfiture may have been that of Sir David Murray, the former Rangers chairman who enjoyed the admiration of so many for so long. His unease seemed clear, as his erstwhile Ibrox vice-chairman painstakingly picked away at the facts surrounding the most embarrassing chapter of a long business career.