Venables: my signature was forged

Terry Venables' signature was forged on a letter at the centre of a pounds 1m fraudulent loan inquiry, the England coach has told the Serious Fraud Office.

In a statement to SFO detectives, details of which have been obtained by the Independent, Mr Venables insists someone else countersigned the letter in his name, giving the impression that he was prepared to act as guarantor.

The letter was used in last night's Panorama programme as part of evidence casting doubt on Mr Venables' business probity. It was sent by Steven Illidge, investment controller of Landhurst Leasing, the company that advanced a pounds 1m loan at a time when Mr Venables was raising cash to buy half of Tottenham Hotspur FC with Alan Sugar, the Amstrad chairman.

Dated 2 September 1991, the letter gives details of proposed terms and conditions of the loan to Edennote Ltd, Mr Venables' company, and includes the wording: ``We will require . . . the personal guarantee of Mr Terry Venables.'' The Panorama journalists Mark Killick and Martin Bashir obtained a copy of the letter, which was countersigned ``T F Venables''.

But in January, Mr Venables told the SFO, which is investigating the activities of Landhurst Leasing: ``I would not and did not supply a personal guarantee. I have . . . been shown another copy of that letter. On the second page there appears an acceptance of the terms and conditions contained in the letter.

``The acceptance bears a signature, T F Venables. This is not my signature.''

The Panorama programme made three central allegations against Mr Venables:

- That the ``loan'' he took out with Landhurst was in fact a sale and leaseback deal involving the assets of four pubs belonging to Transatlantic Inns, a company of which he used to be a director. The programme alleged that the pubs' assets were not Mr Venables' to sell. Further, it said one of the pubs did not even exist.

- That Mr Venables refused to repay the balance of the pounds 1m loan when Landhurst went into liquidation in 1992 because his personal guarantee went missing from Landhurst's safe. Panorama alleged he eventually repaid pounds 700,000 of a total of pounds 1.4m (including interest), leaving the creditors pounds 700,000 out of pocket.

- That he unlawfully took pounds 435,000 out of Edennote last year ahead of other creditors when it went into receivership. He made himself a preferential creditor by claiming he had put money into the company. Panorama said he had not.

However, in an exclusive interview with the Independent yesterday, Mr Venables denied ever making a personal guarantee for the loan. He said: ``All I can say is that it was not my signature on that piece of paper. I don't know why it was forged but I do know I pointed out to the SFO which part [of the signature] proved it was not mine and they agreed.

``I am not in the slightest bit concerned about the allegations because I have done nothing wrong. Despite the fact that I had not signed a personal guarantee, and even though two sets of solicitors advised me that I had no legal duty to pay money to Landhurst, I am repaying pounds 775,000 because I feel morally bound. That's more than its other debtors have done.''

(Photographs omitted)

Laughing it off, page 2

Leading article, page 15