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Thursday, June 28, 2007

One Year Ago Today: "The Trial" Concluded (With Not-Guilty Verdicts)

One year ago today, June 28, 2006 "The Trial" came to a conclusion as the remainder of the accused were found not guilty. Below: How the trial's conclusion was reported at the time)

BBC, June 28, 2006 - Men cleared in QPR threats case
Four men have been found not guilty of taking part in a gunpoint attack on a Queens Park Rangers director. Gianni Paladini told Blackfriars Crown Court he was punched and threatened just before a home game last August.
In total, six men faced charges of conspiracy to blackmail, false imprisonment and gun possession. On Wednesday, four men were cleared.
Last week, club shareholders David Morris and John McFarlane were also acquitted of the charges. Mr Paladini, 60, told the court he was forced to sign a resignation letter after being ambushed at gunpoint at the ground in Loftus Road, west London. Mr Morris, 50, from Buckinghamshire, and Mr McFarlane, 39, from west London, had denied all charges. The other defendants who denied all charges were: Andy Baker, 40, from Somerset; Aaron Lacey, 36, from Watford; David Davenport, 38, from Buckinghamshire, and Michael Reynolds, 45, from north London. The co-defendants told the court they had been invited to the game by Mr Morris's brother and were given a guided tour of the stadium. BBC

BBC Updated Report
"...Explaining the decision to direct the jury to clear the men, Judge Charles Byers told the jury that in the prosecution's case, Mr Morris had been the "essential core" of the blackmail plot and without him the case could not stand.
David Davenport, who runs a security business, said afterwards: "We always expected we were going to get 'not guilty', it's just a big weight off."
Tracy Stent, a co-ordinator at the QPR First Supporters' Trust, said: "It has been a traumatic time for the club and things have come out during the course of the trial which have been quite extraordinary really, regarding what goes on behind the scenes at a football club in relation to various arguments that were going on.
"From a fan's perspective, we need to just learn from the experience, move on." BBC

BBC SUMMATION OF EVENTS AT QPR - Trial shone light on QPR 'soap opera'
By Chris Summers BBC News website

Seven men have been cleared of forcing a director of Queen's Park Rangers football club to resign at gunpoint moments before the start of a match. The allegation was set against the background of a struggle for power at the club.
If it had been scripted in an episode of Footballers' Wives it would have appeared far-fetched.
The accused
Andy Baker (pictured), 40, from North Petherton, Somerset - acquitted
Aaron Lacey, 37, from Watford, Hertfordshire - acquitted
David Davenport, 38, from Chesham, Bucks - acquitted
Michael Reynolds, 45, from Wood Green, north London - acquitted
David Morris, 50, from Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire - acquitted
John McFarlane, 39, from Hayes, west London - acquitted
Barry Powell, 34, from Greenford, west London - acquitted
Daniel Morris (David's brother) - has disappeared. A European warrant has been issued for his arrest
But what allegedly happened behind the scenes at QPR's Loftus Road ground before the kick-off in their first game of the 2005/06 season sounded stranger still.
Gianni Paladini, a 60-year-old former football agent whose client list had included top stars such as Fabrizio Ravanelli, Benito Carbone and Juninho, became involved with QPR in the summer of 2004.
The club, based in west London, finished fifth in the inaugural season of the FA Premier League but they dropped out of the lucrative elite in 1996 and had struggled financially ever since.
Also in 1996, music tycoon Chris Wright took over the club, but five years later he was forced to put the club into administration due to crippling debts.
A year later the club got out of administration but only after securing a £10m loan from the ABC Corporation, who are based in Panama.
The interest on the loan is around £1m a year and, as one QPR fan told the BBC News Website: "The club has never made a profit of £1m, so I don't know where the money is coming from to pay the interest."
This was the background of financial desperation out of which Mr Paladini emerged.
A promising teenage footballer, he had been forced to give up the game at the age of 18, before playing a single game for his home town club Napoli.
He became an interpreter in the football industry and eventually an agent
Mr Paladini, who had come to Britain in the 1960s, lived in Solihull, just outside Birmingham with his wife, Olga, and children Stephen and Kate.
In 2003 he had expressed an interest in taking over another cash-strapped club, Staffordshire-based Port Vale, but when that fell through he turned his attention to QPR and bought £600,000 worth of shares.
Desperate for cash
The trial at Blackfriars Crown Court heard that few questions were asked about Mr Paladini by the QPR board, which was simply glad to meet someone who wanted to inject money into the club.
In fact Mr Paladini had remortgaged one of his homes and was far from the multi-millionaire saviour who supporters thought would rescue their club.
By August 2005 several people within the club had become hostile towards Mr Paladini and were suspicious about his plans for the club.
On 13 August nearly 14,000 fans turned up to see QPR play Sheffield United.
Mr Paladini arrived at the ground around 2pm with his son, daughter and grandson Gianluca, who was due to be the club's mascot that day.
The trial heard he went upstairs to the chairman's suite and bumped into David Morris, the owner of a 2% share in the club, who asked to have a private word with him.
Mr Paladini claimed he was led into the chief executive's office and was surrounded by a group of thugs.
Mr Paladini, a slender, bespectacled figure, said he had been terrified and claimed that at one point one of the gang held a gun at his head and said: "Sign, sign the paper - we'll kill you."
He claimed he was forced to sign several documents resigning from the club and assigning his 14.7% stake in the club over to Mr Morris. Police never found the documents, only a scrunched up piece of paper in Mr Paladini's handwriting.
Mr Paladini's family alerted the police and armed officers arrived at half time and arrested Mr Morris and several other people.
They questioned Mr Paladini who, at one point, broke away from the interview to go to the directors' box and celebrate a goal by QPR's Marc Bircham.
Several men were eventually charged with conspiracy to commit blackmail, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm.
The prosecution claimed Andy Baker had been hired by Mr Morris to recruit a gang of hard men to intimidate Mr Paladini.
But giving evidence at the trial, Mr Baker said he had been invited as a guest of Mr Morris's brother Dan and was hoping to tout for the club's lucrative stewarding contract, which was up for renewal.
Asked about the £7,000 found by police in the pocket of his hooded top he said part of it was wages for his employees and the rest was "to grease some wheels at QPR to help us get the (stewarding) contract."
On 28 June a jury at Blackfriars Crown Court found six of them not guilty of all charges. A seventh man had already been acquitted on the judge's directions.
Boardroom coup
But while 13 August 2005 was the most dramatic day in the history of the soap opera which is QPR, the saga is not over.
Mr Paladini, backed by several friends and fellow investors - including Brazilian World Cup winner Dunga and two Monaco-based companies - ousted chairman Bill Power shortly after the incident.
In February this year the club's highly-rated manager Ian Holloway left after a series of rows with Mr Paladini, who had brought in players including Mauro Milanese, Stefen Nygaard and Dean Sturridge and foisted them on the manager.
During the trial Mr Paladini had been asked by Mr Morris's barrister, Jim Sturman QC: "Did you ever say to manager Ian Holloway that you would kill him?"
"In a funny way, yes, but it didn't mean anything at all," replied Mr Paladini.
Earlier this year QPR's former chairman Bill Power joined the board of directors at Swindon Town and promised to invest £1m in his new club. BBC

BBC: The murky world of football finances
By Chris Summers BBC News website

The trial of seven men accused of trying to blackmail Queens Park Rangers director Gianni Paladini at gunpoint has highlighted the parlous finances of many football clubs outside the Premiership elite. All seven were acquitted on Wednesday.
For the chosen few in the Premiership, football is a land of plenty.
Players get paid tens of thousands of pounds a week and multi-million pound sponsorship and TV deals are a given.
But for the vast majority of professional clubs in Britain the sport is a hand-to-mouth existence and the dreaded word "administration" is never very far away.
Dozens of clubs up and down the country are saddled with enormous debts and many of them are making losses of hundreds of thousands of pounds every year.
But fans of all these clubs have aspirations and this often puts pressure on directors to go for broke.
Gambling on promotion
QPR, a Premiership team until 1996, took a gamble in a bid to regain their membership of the elite.
They signed players like Chelsea's John Spencer and Stoke City's Mike Sheron - £2.35m each - and allowed their wage bill to balloon out of control.
In 2001 chairman Chris Wright was forced to put the club into administration.
The following year, threatened by expulsion from the Football League if they did not come out of administration, the club borrowed £10m from the Panama-based ABC Corporation.
With no high street banks willing to lend them the money they had been forced to go to ABC, a "lender of last resort".
But although QPR were now out of administration they now had to pay annual interest of 10% - £1m a year - and this for a club whose income was a fraction of Premiership neighbours Chelsea or Fulham.
QPR were not alone in begging for money from ABC.
Derby County, who were relegated from the Premiership in 2002, borrowed £15m from the company.
Derby, whose wage bill grew, now has huge debts
A new consortium took over Derby earlier this year and discovered it had debts of around £45m.
In the summer of 2004, former football agent Gianni Paladini, whose client list had included top stars such as Fabrizio Ravanelli, Benito Carbone and Juninho, appeared on the scene as QPR's saviour.
While there is no doubt Mr Paladini was well connected - one of his friends was Brazil's World Cup-winning midfielder Dunga, who joined him on the board of QPR - he had no experience of running a football club.
Nor was he a millionaire, let alone a Roman Abramovich-style billionaire.
Mr Paladini had looked at investing in Northampton, Rotherham, Derby County, Burnley and Port Vale, before finally plumping for QPR.
But his £600,000 investment came from remortgaging his home and, under cross examination by Jim Sturman QC, Mr Paladini admitted he was in financial dire straits in the summer of 2005.
"Yes, because I got involved with QPR. Everything I had was spent on QPR," he said.
Eventually, Mr Paladini deposed Bill Power as QPR chairman. Mr Power, a dyed-in-the-wool QPR fan, has since switched his allegiances and joined the board of directors at Swindon Town, promising to invest £1m.
Lower down the league there have been countless examples in recent years of clubs becoming involved in financial difficulties or boardroom power struggles which have proven more dramatic than anything seen on the pitch..... BBC

The Times -QPR gun case men are cleared
By Adam Fresco
A group of men accused of taking a director of Queens Park Rangers Football Club hostage at gunpoint during a game and forcing him to write a resignation letter were today cleared of all charges.
In a scene reminiscent of the television gangster series The Sopranos, Gianni Paladini was said to have been punched and slapped by a gang of five "heavies" hired by David Morris, a director of the club, during a violent boardroom ordeal.

The defendants were arrested by armed police at half-time as they sat in an executive box watching the game against Sheffield United. But today Judge Charles Byers instructed the jury to acquit the remaining four defendants.

Andy Baker, 40, Aaron Lacey, 36, David Davenport, 38, and Michael Reynolds, 45, were originally on trial alongside three other men accused of an attack on Mr Paladini, a millionaire who is now chairman of the Championship club, at QPR’s ground last year.

But after a jury cleared QPR director David Morris of charges of conspiracy to blackmail, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence Judge Byers threw the case out against all of them.

He said that the Crown had put the case against Mr Morris "as the instigator, organiser and financier of the conspiracy to blackmail" and he was "the essential core of the blackmail and without him there we have no blackmail and no conspiracy".

Mr Morris and co-defendant John McFarlane, 39, of Hayes, Middlesex, were cleared of the charges last week. A seventh defendant, Barry Powell, 34, of Greenford, Middlesex, was acquitted of all charges last month.

Blackfriars Crown Court was told that Mr Morris, 50, had wanted Mr Paladini to relinquish control and give up his majority shareholding of the West London club.

David Williams, QC, for the prosecution, alleged that that Mr Morris had "hired muscle" to force out Mr Paladini.

He said that Mr Paladini, 59, who had bought £600,000 of shares in the club - a controlling stake - had "ruffled feathers" with his fiery Latin temperament.

The team was suffering from serious financial problems and languishing in the Coca-Cola Championship division.

The alleged attack took place in the chief executive's office at QPR's Loftus Road stadium in Shepherds Bush, West London, minutes before the kick-off, Mr Williams said.

"This was no classic boardroom struggle at a football club of the type with which you might be familiar from the business papers or sports newspapers," he said.

"A gun was produced and possibly another held to the head of Gianni Paladini, who then owned a 14.7 per cent stake in the club. At the dictation of Mr Morris, a co-director, he was forced to write out a letter of resignation and to sign two documents. To ensure he did so, he was intimidated by the presence of hired muscle provided by Andy Baker."

The court was told that Mr Morris had asked Mr Paladini for a chat in the chief executive’s office. There, Mr Williams maintained that Mr Baker punched Mr Paladini in the stomach and said that the men were QPR fans and "what they were doing was best for the club".

"A gun was produced, whether real or imitation we cannot say," Mr Williams said. "It was pointed at Mr Paladini before being placed on the table in front of him.

"From the rear he could feel something being pushed at the back of his head. He was never in a position to see if that was a gun or not but, understandably, feared that it was.

"It was against this scene Gianni Paladini was forced to write his letter of resignation. He was shouted at, slapped and punched by the group until he complied. He had no means of escape and, terrified for his safety, did as he was told."

Mr Morris was said to have shouted at him, "Sign there. Sign now", while one of the gang said: "Let's kill him now."

After leaving the boardroom Mr Paladini broke free and began screaming. Police were alerted as the gang fled. Armed officers evacuated guests from executive boxes at half time, then arrested Mr Morris, Mr McFarlane, Mr Baker, Mr Powell and Mr Lacey.

In the box they found an unfinished letter of resignation in shaky handwriting and £7,000 in cash, which Mr Williams contended was payment for the "hired muscle".

Michael Carpenter, a solicitor representing Mr Baker, said outside Blackfriars Crown Court in London: "He feels absolutely fantastic, a great sense of relief, it has been utterly shocking for him, he has been trying to conduct his business and has had time on remand, has had to hand himself in very early in the morning and spend time in the cells each day and he is just relieved at long last justice has been done." Times

The Sun -QPR gun case thrown out

See Also: QPR1st's Tracy Stent - "Final Verdicts" - - The Final Verdicts and a summary of what was heard during the trial.

[And published later, QPR1st's Tracy Stent comprehensive Trial Report

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