Four men accused of taking millions of dollars from rescue helicopter charities have walked free after a jury found they did nothing wrong.

It took jurors just three hours yesterday to throw out a case that the Serious Fraud Office had spent several years investigating and five weeks arguing in the High Court at Auckland.

Wayne Porter, Peter Pharo, Malcolm Beattie and Stewart Romley have spent the past three years protesting their innocence.

The SFO claimed the men defrauded the Auckland Helicopter and ChildFlight Trusts by giving millions of dollars from pub gaming machines back to the pubs in the guise of advertising costs.

The men, aged in their 60s, all had links to the GoldTimes Trust, which distributed the grants to the trusts.

Mr Porter and Mr Pharo had interests in the pubs where the gaming machines operated.

Mr Beattie had been involved with the Auckland Rescue Helicopter Trust for 30 years.

Yesterday, in the minutes before the verdicts were read out, the strain of the past few years was clearly evident on the men's faces.

As each "Not guilty" verdict was given, the strain turned to relief, and in some cases tears.

Mr Beattie, the only one of the four prepared to discuss the case, called for the SFO to be held accountable for its decision to bring the case.

"I'm pleased to have had my conduct vindicated by the jury and what a wonderful jury to stay focused that long and come out with a decision - terrific.

"What I would really like to say is the decision to prosecute me and my colleagues was utterly misguided and it was absolutely wrong.

"It's appropriate ... in due course the Serious Fraud Office be held accountable, absolutely account for it's conduct in this case," said Mr Beattie.

The office would not comment and prosecutor Gus Andree Wiltens said: "The Crown doesn't respond after jury decisions, ever."

Outside the court, Mr Beattie said the not guilty verdict ended three years and nine months of living in a "time warp".

There would "be another day for the Serious Fraud Office", he said.

In the meantime, Mr Beattie wanted to celebrate and thank those who had stuck with him through thick and thin.

He planned to raise a glass last night with family and friends, before heading to Sunset Beach at Port Waikato, where he is president of the surf life-saving club, to relax.

Mr Beattie said the charges had made his business life hell but he remained involved in charity and would continue to do so.

Earlier in the day, as Justice Chris Allan summed up the case for the jury, he made a brief reference to the SFO's decision to focus on the trust's transactions after October 1997, though an advertising arrangement - at the centre of the case - had been put in place in late 1994.

In commenting on why not everyone involved in the trust in 1994 was called, Justice Allan said: "You might think that is a disappointing feature of the case but you are only able to act on what you are presented with."

Justice Allan said the case was in reality a simple one, albeit with plenty of documentation and evidence to consider. He said the onus of proof rested with the Crown, which alleged that the operation was a racket which lined the pockets of Mr Porter and Mr Pharo.

The defence said the Crown's case was one that jumped to conclusions, based on hindsight.

The case


Four men accused of defrauding the Helicopter and ChildFlight Trusts of millions of dollars.

The accused


Malcolm Beattie, Wayne Porter, Peter Pharo and Stewart Romley, who all had ties to the GoldTimes Trust, which distributed grants to rescue helicopter trusts.

The charges


Each man faced two charges of conspiracy to defraud.

The verdict


Not guilty on all counts.