Harry Redknapp's defence counsel turned on the News of the World yesterday, describing the methods of the now-defunct tabloid and its former reporter Rob Beasley as "despicable" and "repugnant" in the Tottenham Hotspur manager's trial for tax evasion.
In his closing speech, Mr John Kelsey-Fry QC attacked the tactics used in the Beasley interview from February 2009 – the centrepiece of the prosecution's case against Redknapp – which submits that two payments totalling £189,000 into a Monaco bank account were bonuses paid offshore to evade tax.
In the telephone interview with Beasley, which has been played to court, Redknapp rejected the explanation of his co-defendant Milan Mandaric that the payments were seed money for an investment fund and said they were a bonus from the profits of Portsmouth's sale of Peter Crouch in 2002. Both men have contended in court that the money was the basis of an investment fund loaned by Mandaric.
Mr Kelsey-Fry QC said Beasley had called Redknapp two days before his Spurs team were due to play in the Carling Cup final against Manchester United in order to conduct a "satellite investigation" outside the police inquiries.
Mr Kelsey-Fry QC told the jury: "He [Beasley] rings, takes tapes without warning. Plays on being a mate – 'I'm your mate'. He employs kidology, journalistic licence as he calls it, in the hope of getting Redknapp to say something different to what he would tell the police. All for a good story. All's fair in love and war and the News of the World.
"It's despicable. Not merely because it plays on a friendship. Not merely because it plays on the fear of a front page. Not merely because he tapes without saying so. Not merely because the interviewee was trying to prevent any quotes from getting out before the cup final. It is primarily despicable because the pursuit of the front page over-rides any respect or decency for the persons involved and the proper process of the police investigation.
"You may find the Beasley evidence repugnant. It is repugnant to all basic instincts of fairness in the criminal justice process. It is a situation engineered to put a man in a position where he may choose not to say what he means.
"The fact that the prosecution characterise it as the vital, crucial linchpin evidence of their case you may think speaks volumes of their case. That the authorities chose to put two men on trial on these facts will be a matter for them. It will be up to you to decide the common sense of that decision."
Mr Kelsey-Fry QC said that the relatively small amounts of money at stake meant the prosecution counsel, Mr John Black QC, "could not bring himself" to ask Mandaric why he had, as the prosecution alleged, "saved a few quid on tax". In the case of Mandaric, who had paid £17m in income tax alone with Portsmouth, Mr Kelsey-Fry QC said, the prosecution had recognised the "utter absurdity" of the question.
On the question of whether Redknapp was "greedy", however, Mr Kelsey-Fry QC asked: "Why is it that if you become a billionaire it is to your credit but if you reach the top of the football world you are 'greedy?'"
The initial $145,000 payment, equivalent to £100,000, into the Monaco account in 2002 is, the Crown says, in place of the £115,473 that Redknapp believed he was due on the profits of the Crouch transfer in 2002. Mr Kelsey-Fry QC said if the prosecution's case was to be believed it would have saved Mandaric only £15,473 had he paid it through the books. In Redknapp's case it would have made him little more than £30,000 net.
Mr Kelsey-Fry QC said that the relatively small sums involved given the wealth of the two men involved demonstrated the "inherent absurdity" of the prosecution's case. Earlier in the day, Mandaric's counsel, Lord Macdonald, told the jury that the Crown's case against his client was "paper thin". He said that Mandaric's wealth was an "inescapable and penetrating" part of the case. "It is the Crown's case that a man with hundreds of millions of pounds was driven to crime to save money? How much? On the Crown's worst-case scenario less than £70,000."
Lord Macdonald described Redknapp and Mandaric as the "odd couple", but said his client "loved" his former manager, which was why he had established the investment fund for him. Both men deny the two charges of cheating the public revenue. The case continues.