DTI put pressure on fraud office over Venables

Documents show the SFO turned down 11 allegations.
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The Department of Trade and Industry, which is seeking to disqualify Terry Venables as a company director, repeatedly pressed the Serious Fraud Office to start a criminal investigation into the England football coach.

This is revealed in documents relating to the case and seen by the Independent. The documents show that the DTI forwarded 11 alleged offences which they wanted the SFO to examine.

Sources who attended a highly fractious meeting at the SFO in November 1994 have said that when DTI officials realised the SFO would not take the case, they attempted to start briefing the Prime Minister.

A senior civil servant, Martin Roberts, told the SFO's director, George Staple, that if the SFO would not change its mind "it was necessary for him to brief his Ministers and for the Private Office to notify No 10".

It would be surprising for Downing Street to be informed in advance of decisions taken by the SFO, which is an independent prosecuting authority, and indeed yesterday a statement said that No 10 did not have prior warning of the SFO's decision in the Venables case. "We were not informed, nor would we expect to be," a spokesman said yesterday.

However, papers seen by the Independent reveal that both the DTI and the SFO considered delaying a public announcement of the SFO's decision to give them time to inform No 10.

A letter from the SFO to the Attorney General's Chambers, dated November 3, 1994, headed "Edennote-Terry Venables", concludes: "The timing of the announcement will depend upon the DTI, since the officials with whom we have been discussing the matter need to bring it to the attention of their ministers and are also considering whether it is appropriate to advise 10, Downing Street."

The Independent has seen DTI papers relating to discussions between the two prosecuting authorities in 1994, when the DTI wished the SFO to assume responsibility for its investigation into the business affairs of the England coach.

All potential criminal proceedings against Mr Venables appear now to have been dropped, according to a letter the DTI sent to him before Christmas.

The documents reveal that in none of 11 cases put up for investigation by the DTI was there deemed to be sufficient evidence to warrant the SFO becoming involved.

One of the allegations, which currently features in a DTI case against Mr Venables seeking his disqualification as a director, relates to a pounds 1m loan he received from a since-collapsed finance company, Landhurst Leasing.

In 1994, the documents show, the DTI was pressing the SFO to investigate whether theft or conspiracy could be shown in the way leases were offered as security for the loan.

The SFO also declined to pursue DTI concerns that a corrupt payment had been made to obtain one of the leases.

Other allegations put forward by the DTI but turned down by the SFO included:

rClaims that Mr Venables' company, Edennote, had made misleading statements when it subscribed for shares in Tottenham Hotspur plc.

rClaims that Mr Venables aided and abetted Eddie Ashby, an undischarged bankrupt, in taking part in the management of a number of companies. (Mr Ashby is currently defending charges related to taking part in the management of companies while an undischarged bankrupt.)

rClaims that a free executive box at Tottenham Hotspur supplied to Landhurst Leasing for 1991/92 could amount to theft.