The father and uncle of Manchester United footballer Wayne Rooney were arrested yesterday on suspicion of taking part in an alleged betting scam.
Wayne Rooney Snr, 48, was detained at his home in Liverpool as part of a police operation that also involved the arrest of Steve Jennings, a Motherwell midfielder whose sending off during a match last year against the Edinburgh side Hearts prompted an investigation into suspicious betting patterns. Nine people were held for suspected fraud in Liverpool and Glasgow.
Jennings, 26, who as a teenager played alongside the England striker Rooney while they were youth players at Everton, received a red card in the closing stages of the match last December on the same day that a £500 bet was placed on a sending off during the same fixture from a newly opened account in Liverpool. The wager at odds of 10 to one would have yielded £5,500.
Merseyside Police and the Scottish Football Association (SFA) insisted that the nine-month investigation was restricted to the single match between Motherwell and Hearts and did not involve other fixtures in the Scottish Premier League or the English game, including the Premiership.
The arrests threatened to cast a shadow over Rooney's preparations for tonight's European qualifier for England against Montenegro. Manager Fabio Capello, whose side need only a point to qualify for next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine, insisted that the striker was "relaxed" and unfazed.
Wayne Rooney Snr and his brother, Richie, 54, who runs a boxing club, and Jennings, who was arrested at his Glasgow home, were released on police bail after being held for eight hours on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers.
Also arrested and bailed were Michael Laffey, 36, from Kirkby, a 22-year-old man from Kirkdale, a 26-year-old man from Croxteth, a 29-year-old man from Bootle, a 31-year-old from Litherland and a 68-year-old from Fazakerley. Mr Laffey is an associate of several high-profile Merseyside footballers.
The criminal inquiry, which is being carried out jointly with betting industry regulator the Gambling Commission, began after the undignified but otherwise unremarkable dismissal of Jennings during the 83rd minute of Motherwell's 2-1 home defeat to Hearts on 14 December.
Jennings was seen to angrily approach referee Stevie O'Reilly after a penalty appeal was turned down, allegedly asking him when he was going to stop "cheating" Motherwell and gripping him on the arm.
Jennings had already been cautioned for an earlier foul but under the rules of the game insulting or improper behaviour to a match official results in an automatic red card.
Anthony Barnfather, a partner at Pannone, a press relations consultancy representing Wayne Rooney Snr said: "Mr Rooney vigorously denies all of these allegations. We are co-operating fully with the investigation. No further comment will be made at this time."