Venables led police to `blackmailer'

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The Independent Online
Terry Venables joined with police to foil an alleged £100,000 blackmail plot after the theft of a government computer disk detailing his business affairs.

The England coach staged a clandestine meeting with the alleged blackmailer before tipping off detectives from Scotland Yard's International Organised Crime Branch. Armed with information from Mr Venables, undercover detectives handed over £100,000 in cash in return for the confidential disk; then they arrested the person.

Details of the astonishing saga began to emerge in December when Scotland Yard announced it had arrested a man and his alleged accomplice, a woman who worked at the Department of Trade and Industry, over the theft of the computer disk. The DTI had been carrying out an investigation into Mr Venables' acquisition of half of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The disk is thought to have contained the report on its findings.

Yesterday, however, sources close to the England coach gave further details of his role in the arrests, and confirmed that an attempt was made to persuade him to buy the stolen disk.

Mr Venables was first contacted by the alleged blackmailer in November. The England coach spoke to the man, a 32-year-old from Co Kildare, but dismissed him as a hoax caller. Sometime later, however, the man called Mr Venables at his London club, ScribesWest, and displayed knowledge of information that could have come only from the DTI investigation.

A lunchtime meeting was arranged for several days later at Dirty Dick's pub in the City - the Irishman's choice - and Mr Venables attended with Eddie Ashby, a business associate.

"The whole affair was astonishing," Mr Ashby said. "It felt very unnatural, walking into a pub with a high-profile person like Terry in circumstances where everyone was going to recognise him and then having to behave in a surreptitious manner."

The casually dressed 6ft Irishman, described as "congenial and easy-going", identified himself to Mr Venables and Mr Ashby and bought the England coach a half-pint of beer. The three then retired to a cubicle where the Irishman gave details of what he had in his possession. It is understood he suggested he might try to find another buyer for the disk, a move that could have led to publication of the DTI report.

The meeting lasted 15 minutes and ended with the man giving Mr Venables a telephone number in Ireland.

"Terry was extremely annoyed and found the situation totally unreal," a close friend said. "But he kept his cool to get as much information as he could."

He passed on the information to his solicitors, who forwarded it to the police. On 19 December, detectives posing as Mr Venables' representatives held a meeting with the Irishman at the Burlington Hotel in Dublin. They took a notebook computer and £100,000 in a suitcase. After confirming the disk was genuine, they handed over the cash and arrested the man as he counted it. The next day, they arrested a woman at the DTI.

Mr Venables said yesterday that the theft of the disk was the fourth leak of confidential information from the DTI relating to his business affairs. "I just think this continuous business of leaks, of things going missing and even of documents being stolen from me is a bit too coincidental," he said. "I'm fed up with it. I just want to get on with my job."

Scotland Yard yesterday confirmed that a man and a woman had been arrested and released on police bail. A spokesman said papers had been forwarded to the Crown Prosecution Service, but no charges had yet been laid.

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