A High Court judge has issued a tough rebuke to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), over the watchdog's handling of a case that left it unable to track the information it had used to obtain a search warrant.

The news follows the SFO reportedly abandoning the development of a new case management system earlier this year. The system had been intended to help with case management, and the SFO had said it wanted the system to help it process "increasingly complex cases, spawning ever greater volumes of information".

In his comments yesterday, the judge was referring to the SFO case against property magnate Vincent Tchenguiz, concerning the collapse of Icelandic bank Kaupthing. In March 2011, the SFO had made a dawn raid over Mr Tchenguiz's dealing with Kaupthing, but a year later it apologised for relying on "misinformation" for the warrants. Tchenguiz is suing the SFO for £100 million over the issue, saying it has significantly damaged his business.

In the case, the SFO has also admitted some of its former staff who had worked on the case "did not have access to any form of secure email", according to the Financial Times. These problems hampered the watchdog's internal investigation into the problems.

The SFO said in internal documents seen by the newspaper that it had "no clear record of the precise materials that had been relied upon".

Lord Justice Thomas blasted the "sheer incompetence" of the organisation.

"When I was at school, I used to claim the dog had eaten my homework," he said. "It's fine for a schoolboy, but pretty feeble from a publicly funded regulator."

The SFO has asked for six more weeks to provide an explanation, and the judge said it should "burn the midnight oil" in order to do so in time.

Photo: Svilen001