MAGISTRATES have been reprimanded for a blunder which led to withdrawal of a warrant for the arrest of a North Yorkshire businessman facing extradition from Australia.

Charles Forsyth, formerly of Easingwold, was detained by Australian police in November last year after York magistrates issued an arrest warrant in connection with his activities as managing director of Boroughbridge firm, Personal Computer Science Ltd.

More than 150 people were thrown out of work when the company went into receivership in July 1999 and the Serious Fraud Office launched extradition proceedings to secure Mr Forsyth's return to the UK for questioning.

But on August 5 this year, Selby magistrates mistakenly "withdrew" the arrest warrant, thus obstructing the progress of Mr Forsyth's extradition from Australia and enabling him to be released on bail.

The court had in error included Mr Forsyth's case among its list of "old outstanding warrants" which it earmarks for withdrawal on a "rolling review basis".

Neither the Serious Fraud Office nor Mr Forsyth's lawyers were informed of the decision, London's High Court heard.

Forsyth, 44, was detained by West Australian Police as he left church in Boyup Brook in November last year. The father-of-three was accused of computer fraud, pirated computer offences, deception involving a 1.5 million dollar credit facility overdraft, false accounting and lying about his banking qualifications.

At the time, his father, Alistair Forsyth, who lives in Boyup Brook, said his son had asked to stay with him in Australia following his business problems and the break-up of his marriage.

Lord Justice Kennedy castigated Selby magistrates for the blunder, saying: "I am astonished that, in August, the matter could be listed for disposal at Selby without either the Serious Fraud Office, the relevant police officer or the interested party (Mr Forsyth) being told what was going on.

"Plainly it was possible to make contact with the Serious Fraud Office and the relevant police officer, but neither step seems to have been taken. That seems to me to be no less than incompetence."

After the judge's comments, Selby magistrates consented to their decision being "quashed", leaving the way open for extradition proceedings to continue in Australia.

Updated: 11:07 Tuesday, October 21, 2003