Grobbelaar libel jury told of `scam'

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The Independent Online
BRUCE GROBBELAAR, the former Liverpool goalkeeper cleared in the criminal courts of accepting bribes to fix matches, accused The Sun newspaper yesterday of waging a "classic scam" to ensnare him.

Mr Grobbelaar, 41, made the claim at the start of a libel action against The Sun, where the allegations appeared in late 1994, and against its former editor, Stuart Higgins.

Richard Hartley QC, the footballer's barrister, alleged that the newspaper conspired with Mr Grobbelaar's former business partner, Chris Vincent, to trick him into making admissions while he was being secretly taped.

Mr Grobbelaar pretended to go along with the plan because he hoped to expose Mr Vincent's alleged corruption to the Football Association and the police, the court was told.

"It was a high-risk strategy and, most unfortunately, it did not have the result Mr Grobbelaar was hoping for," said Mr Hartley.

The Zimbabwean international is suing The Sun over a series of articles which alleged that he took pounds 40,000 to ensure that Liverpool lost to Newcastle in a match in 1993.

The newspaper claimed that he would have pocketed another large sum following a game against Manchester United, had he not ruined the deal by accidentally making a dramatic save.

Yesterday the judge, Mr Justice Gray, and jury were told that Mr Vincent approached The Sun, offering to sell it a story that Mr Grobbelaar was corrupt and had accepted bribes to fix matches. "The Sun worked out with Vincent how they would try to trap Mr Grobbelaar," said Mr Hartley. "It was to be the classic scam."

Rightly or wrongly, he said, the footballer decided to pretend to go along with the plan, accepting a pounds 2,000 payment that he did not intend to keep, in order to gain Mr Vincent's confidence.

But their conversation was captured on a videotape that forms the basis of The Sun's defence. The newspaper denies libel on the grounds of justification and qualified privilege.

Mr Hartley said that when The Sun confronted Mr Grobbelaar about the allegations his explanations and denials "fell on deaf ears". He said: "The Sun had its scoop, for which they had paid Vincent no less than pounds 33,000, and it was determined to publish come what may."

The High Court heard that Mr Grobbelaar became involved with Mr Vincent, a former Rhodesian army comrade, in 1992, when the latter approached him about setting up game lodges in Zimbabwe. By 1994 he had become concerned about the whereabouts of pounds 67,600 he had given Mr Vincent to invest in the project, and began to suspect he was dishonest.

Mr Hartley said that Mr Vincent and The Sun invented a syndicate that was supposedly willing to pay Mr Grobbelaar pounds 2,000 every fortnight if he nominated a game at the end of the season in which he would deliberately let in a goal.

"He told Vincent he was willing to be involved in Vincent's corrupt scam as he felt this was the only way he would find out exactly what Vincent was up to ... he planned to expose Vincent as the crook he knew him to be," said Mr Hartley.

The libel action follows two criminal trials at Winchester Crown Court in 1997 that led to Mr Grobbelaar being cleared of conspiracy, together with the former Wimbledon footballers John Fashanu and Hans Segers, and the businessman Heng Suan Lim.

Mr Hartley told the jury: "You may think that the fact Mr Grobbelaar is prepared to face a jury for a third time shows a certain amount of guts and that he knows he is in the right."

The case continues.