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Why are we so upset about Sir Fred when there are bonuses for the bailed-out and CBEs for ex-fraudsters?

Unlike some on the honours list, Sir Fred Goodwin has never been convicted. And many still working at state-supported RBS seem in line for another big helping of cash

The timing of David Cameron’s indiscreet disclosure that he has asked the honours committee to review Sir Fred Goodwin’s knighthood looks cynically designed to draw fire away from imminent bonus payouts for current executives and investment bankers at Royal Bank of Scotland.

The prime minister would have known full well that such reviews are properly conducted in private. But in his eagerness to take a high moral line he appears to have forgotten that, only three weeks ago, his government included in the New Year honours list a certain Gerald Ronson – one of Britain’s most prominent white-collar convicted fraudsters.

There will be few, of course, rushing to Goodwin’s defence. But let’s not forget that the former RBS chief executive has not been convicted of any crime – and, following the Financial Services Authority’s report last month, even a regulatory sanction has been ruled out. Moreover, he has, albeit in a very narrow way, expressed a modicum of responsibility and contrition for the state in which he left the bank.

The same cannot be said for property tycoon Ronson, who in 1990 was sentenced to a year in jail for his part in the Guinness share support scandal and fined £5m – at the time the largest single fine handed down by a British criminal court.

Although Ronson elected not to testify in his own defence during the “Guinness Four” trial, in his autobiography, Leading From the Front, published in 2009 he was a good deal more forthcoming. The prosecution, he wrote, was anti-semitic; the judge “spiteful and vengeful”; the jury “ignorant”; his co-defendant Ernest Saunders “a first-class lying schmuck”.

For his part, Ronson recalls being wholly innocent and, indeed, entirely ignorant of the share scandal to which his name had been attached. “British justice moved the goalposts to send me to prison,” he concluded.

The prosecution painted a very different picture. “The defendants were so carried away by greed and ambition that they were prepared to be dishonest and commit criminal offences. They were so greedy for money and power that they were prepared to cross the line,” the jury was told.

It is worth rehearsing that Ronson was accused of investing £25m in Guinness shares on the understanding he would receive a £5m success fee, sanctioned by Guinness boss Saunders, if the drinks group’s takeover of rival Distillers proved successful. An indemnity against any losses was also provided. The support had been sought by Saunders at a crucial time in the bitter takeover battle.

Several other wealthy figures were to join what was later nicknamed the “Guinness supporters club”, among them notorious Wall Street trader Ivan Boesky. A plea bargain deal struck by Boesky in 1986 saw him admit insider dealing offences in the US and led to devastating evidence emerging which helped secure the conviction of star junk bonds pioneer Michael Milken. It was Boesky’s evidence that proved the trigger for a British probe into Guinness and Ronson.

Boesky’s lawyers told British police the trader “had not dealt with Guinness before and did not know them and was content to rely on Ronson’s assurance of their honouring the arrangements … Ronson in effect vouched for Guinness and said he had a similar deal with them.”

In his book, however, Ronson recalls a slightly different sequence of events. “I admit that I was the one who gave them [ie Saunders and others] Boesky’s phone number … As it happened, I had his number, but I didn’t make the introduction.”

Is this a man who has come to terms with his past or not? If the answer is no, then bestowing a CBE upon him – no matter how much of his vast personal wealth he has given to charity – must surely be a blunder. And one Goodwin might quite reasonably cite in defence of his own knighthood. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds