Rooney's agent misled court

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The Independent Online

Three men were cleared today of blackmailing football agent Paul Stretford after it emerged he had misled the court.

John Hyland and brothers Christopher and Anthony Bacon were on trial at Warrington Crown Court accused of trying to intimidate Mr Stretford into sharing the money he made by representing Wayne Rooney.

The prosecution dropped its case after it became clear that Mr Stretford made false statements while giving evidence last week.

Mr Stretford, who founded the successful Proactive agency, claimed last week that he had not represented Rooney before December 2002, when the young prodigy was still under contract to his original agent, Peter McIntosh.

But two documents were disclosed by Proactive over the weekend which showed that Mr Stretford was representing the striker by September 2002.

Prosecution barrister John Hedgecoe said: "Having seen those documents, in particular that one dated September 19 (2002), we do not feel able to rely on Paul Stretford as a witness in this case.

"In view of his importance as a witness to the way in which we have put this case from the outset, we have decided that the only appropriate course is to offer no further evidence."

Judge David Hale passed not guilty verdicts on all three men.

Cheshire Constabulary today confirmed it was reviewing the evidence given by Mr Stretford, but refused to comment further.

The case related to a year–long wrangle between Mr Stretford and associates of Wayne Rooney's first agent, Peter McIntosh.

The associates, which included John Hyland, felt that Mr Stretford had "poached" Rooney while he was still under contract to Peter McIntosh, and that he should pay compensation.

Mr Stretford agreed to pay compensation but the two parties could not agree over terms and Mr Hyland felt that Mr Stretford was deliberately stalling.

In June 2003, Mr Stretford arranged a meeting at a Cheshire hotel to discuss the issue with Dave Lockwood, another business associate of Peter McIntosh.

The meeting, which was secretly filmed by Mr Stretford, was interrupted by John Hyland and the Bacon brothers.

Mr Hyland, a 42–year–old former Olympic boxer, shouted at Mr Stretford to sign a contract which would split his Rooney earnings 50–50.

Security consultants Christopher and Anthony Bacon, 34 and 38, stood in the room and, the prosecution had claimed, added to the air of menace during the two–minute incident.

All three men were charged with blackmail by demanding unwarranted money with menaces.

Mr Hyland's defence team were building a case that some form of compensation was warranted because Mr Stretford had poached Rooney from Mr McIntosh.

Mr Stretford last week repeatedly told the jury he had not represented Rooney before December 2002, other than regarding his image rights. The documents released over the weekend proved that to be false.

After the case, Mr Hyland called for a thorough review of the way football agents operate.

His solicitor Peter Quinn said: "John is delighted by his acquittal. He has always maintained that he was totally innocent of the charge of blackmail and that his anger with Paul Stretford was simply borne of frustration.

"This case has highlighted the need for a thorough inquiry and a new set of rules in connection with the relationship between football agents, players and their families, football clubs and football managers at all levels of the professional game.

"As a keen football fan, John calls upon the Football Association, the Premier League and the other regulatory bodies in football to appoint a senior and independent person to commence such an inquiry in public as soon as possible.

"Such an inquiry is needed so that the beautiful game can once again be seen to be just that."

Anthony Bacon, who served with the Australian SAS before becoming a security consultant, said outside court: "Paul Stretford maintains that he is the ethical football agent. This trial has shown that he is a manipulative and dishonest man who will stop at nothing to enrich himself."