THE public gallery at Ipswich Crown Court gasped. Lester Piggott knew he was going down, yet even he was appalled. The 11times champion jockey's legs buckled when sentence was pronounced: "Three years".

He was soon driven with 12 other prisoners to Norwich jail, and stripped of his OBE.

It's 19 years today since the most successful sportsman of his era was convicted on 10 counts. The sentence was the highest passed for personal tax fraud. The fact that he'd already paid GBP3.9m to the Inland Revenue, was to no avail. The case against him was for GBP1.7m. An example was to be made. Anything but a custodial sentence would encourage other tax dodgers, said the judge.

He was also fined GBP25,000, plus GBP34,000 costs. That day, this paper advertised a post for an experienced accountant at a salary of GBP25,000. That was reportedly half the then fee for a Derby-winning jockey, a feat Piggott had achieved a record nine times.

Piggott's wife, Sue, wept as he was led from court, but within hours the Jockey Club had granted her a temporary trainers' license to take over his yard at Newmarket. He was free 366 days later.

Piggot, 52 when convicted, had ample means. Notoriously thrifty, he was estimated to be worth more than GBP20m. There were 23 bank accounts in tax havens like Switzerland, the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Isle of Man, and Jersey. At least one account, discovered just a month before the trial, was not even in Piggott's name. Even his own advisers were unaware of its existence.

The case lifted the lid on the industry. Trainer Henry Cecil employed Piggott at GBP10,000 a year, but it was common for Classic-winning jockeys to be paid a fortieth share in these stallions. A single share in Nijinsky (on which Piggott won the 1970 Derby and 2000 Guineas) was traded in 1983 for GBP848,000. Twelve years after he rode him to victory in the Derby, a Roberto share was worth GBP575,000, and the same year two shares in another of his nine Derby winners, The Minstrel, went for GBP1.15m.

Another lucrative seam was nomination rights. Shareholders were allowed to bring a mare to a stallion for its lifetime, and sell the foal. In the 10 years to 1984 yearling fees rose tenfold, to 33,300 guineas. Nomination rights could also be sold. Those for Habitat, a successful Piggott mount of the late 1960s, rose from 3000 guineas in '73 to 80,000 in '86.

Piggott rode his first winner at 12 and his first in the Derby at 18. He retired in 1985, and set up as a trainer. Released from jail, he returned to riding, claiming his 30th Classic win aged 56. He finally hung up his whip in 1995, with more than 5300 wins in over 30 countries after 47 years in the saddle.

Piggott was collateral fallout in a dispute between Cecil and a London owner and businessman. The trainer had written a private and confidential letter asking his owners to contribute to Piggott's annual retainer. He asked for it to be paid in cash, and suggested the letter be destroyed. One owner felt Cecil had mismanaged the sale of a colt, and passed the letter to the Revenue. Earlier investigations into Piggott's affairs discovered nothing, but the third time, they had him.