Venables stung by judge's criticisms

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Terry Venables' credibility as the England coach suffered a damaging blow yesterday when a judge said some of the evidence he had given under oath had been "wanton" and not "entirely reliable to put it at its most charitable".

The comments were made by Mr Recorder Donald Williams as he found against Venables in a case brought by Jeffrey Fugler, a businessman, who was suing Scribes West, Venables' London club, for an unpaid pounds 20,000 bill. Although the sum was reduced, and Fugler ordered to pay half of his own costs, Scribes West is likely to have to find more than pounds 100,000 to cover the legal costs.

It is the judge's comments, however, which will concern the Football Association. The judge said some of Venables' evidence "contradicted" both his own version of events in his recently published autobiography and evidence Venables had previously given in connection with the liquidation proceedings involving Scribes West.

He also appeared unimpressed with Venables' assertion, made in court, that he had not been able to find an invoice from Fugler. "I find his denial on oath in the liquidation proceedings of the receipt of the invoice as being rather wanton," the judge said. "Had a diligent search been made the invoice would have been recovered. It is with this in mind that I do not accept his evidence to be entirely reliable, to put it at its most charitable."

He later added: "I do not go so far as to say it [the invoice] was deliberately withheld, but it must cast some doubt on the evidence of Mr [Eddie] Ashby and Mr Venables and the way in which their business was conducted."

A fortnight ago the Department of Trade and Industry began proceedings to disqualify Venables as a director, but the FA have stood by him during a prolonged series of court cases, investigations and allegedly damaging document leaks. However, they do have an escape clause in their contract with Venables.

Although there has been some reported disquiet among members of the FA's international committee at Venables' legal entanglements, they are pleased with the progress of the football team, and because of this are negotiating an extention to Venables' contract. At present it will expire after the European Championship next summer.

Last night the FA was unavailable for comment.

In a complicated case the judge also criticised almost everyone else who gave evidence. The evidence supplied by Eddie Ashby, Venables's ill- starred financial adviser, needed, he said, to be treated with "more than a pinch of salt, more likely a handful."

Venables wife, Yvette, was said to have given evidence designed to help her husband, her husband's club, and the court, "in that order of priority."

The evidence of his agent, Eric Hall, was, he said, more useful for its entertainment value than anything else.

Fugler, whose brother, a lawyer, is also suing Venables, did not escape criticism. He had brought the case after Venables only paid him a third of a pounds 30,000 fee for promotional work for Scribes West. During the six- day hearing at Central London County Court he mentioned seeing, and taking, a document which referred to a pounds 50,000 payment made to Frank McLintock. The payment was in connection with Teddy Sheringham's transfer from Nottingham Forest to Tottenham, who were then managed by Venables. The transfer is still being investigated by the Premier League's bungs inquiry.

The documents, which Fugler said he had picked up by mistake, then appeared in a national newspaper at about the same time they became available to Venables' solicitors. Their publication, said Venables, was further evidence of an orchestrated campaign against him.

The judge said the timing was "more than coincidental" and accused Fugler of having an "improper and ulterior motive in keeping the documents - namely to bring pressure on the defendents to make payment."

He therefore said he treated Fugler's evidence with a pinch of "judicial salt" and ordered him to pay half his own estimated pounds 90,000 costs. He also reduced the pounds 20,000 sum because some of the promotional work contained errors, including a wrong telephone number. However, the mistakes were not bad enough to support Venables' counter-claim against Fugler.

Dons may let Jones go, page 27