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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Not Guilty Verdicts: Further Reports....Club Has Yet to Issue Any Comment

BBC " ...
A QPR spokesman said the club would not comment."

The Times -QPR gun case men are cleared
By Adam Fresco
A group of men accused of taking a director of Queens Park Rangers Football Club hostage at gunpoint during a game and forcing him to write a resignation letter were today cleared of all charges.

In a scene reminiscent of the television gangster series The Sopranos, Gianni Paladini was said to have been punched and slapped by a gang of five "heavies" hired by David Morris, a director of the club, during a violent boardroom ordeal.

The defendants were arrested by armed police at half-time as they sat in an executive box watching the game against Sheffield United. But today Judge Charles Byers instructed the jury to acquit the remaining four defendants.

Andy Baker, 40, Aaron Lacey, 36, David Davenport, 38, and Michael Reynolds, 45, were originally on trial alongside three other men accused of an attack on Mr Paladini, a millionaire who is now chairman of the Championship club, at QPR’s ground last year.

But after a jury cleared QPR director David Morris of charges of conspiracy to blackmail, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm with intent to cause fear of violence Judge Byers threw the case out against all of them.

He said that the Crown had put the case against Mr Morris "as the instigator, organiser and financier of the conspiracy to blackmail" and he was "the essential core of the blackmail and without him there we have no blackmail and no conspiracy".

Mr Morris and co-defendant John McFarlane, 39, of Hayes, Middlesex, were cleared of the charges last week. A seventh defendant, Barry Powell, 34, of Greenford, Middlesex, was acquitted of all charges last month.

Blackfriars Crown Court was told that Mr Morris, 50, had wanted Mr Paladini to relinquish control and give up his majority shareholding of the West London club.

David Williams, QC, for the prosecution, alleged that that Mr Morris had "hired muscle" to force out Mr Paladini.

He said that Mr Paladini, 59, who had bought £600,000 of shares in the club - a controlling stake - had "ruffled feathers" with his fiery Latin temperament.

The team was suffering from serious financial problems and languishing in the Coca-Cola Championship division.

The alleged attack took place in the chief executive's office at QPR's Loftus Road stadium in Shepherds Bush, West London, minutes before the kick-off, Mr Williams said.

"This was no classic boardroom struggle at a football club of the type with which you might be familiar from the business papers or sports newspapers," he said.

"A gun was produced and possibly another held to the head of Gianni Paladini, who then owned a 14.7 per cent stake in the club. At the dictation of Mr Morris, a co-director, he was forced to write out a letter of resignation and to sign two documents. To ensure he did so, he was intimidated by the presence of hired muscle provided by Andy Baker."

The court was told that Mr Morris had asked Mr Paladini for a chat in the chief executive’s office. There, Mr Williams maintained that Mr Baker punched Mr Paladini in the stomach and said that the men were QPR fans and "what they were doing was best for the club".

"A gun was produced, whether real or imitation we cannot say," Mr Williams said. "It was pointed at Mr Paladini before being placed on the table in front of him.

"From the rear he could feel something being pushed at the back of his head. He was never in a position to see if that was a gun or not but, understandably, feared that it was.

"It was against this scene Gianni Paladini was forced to write his letter of resignation. He was shouted at, slapped and punched by the group until he complied. He had no means of escape and, terrified for his safety, did as he was told."

Mr Morris was said to have shouted at him, "Sign there. Sign now", while one of the gang said: "Let's kill him now."

After leaving the boardroom Mr Paladini broke free and began screaming. Police were alerted as the gang fled. Armed officers evacuated guests from executive boxes at half time, then arrested Mr Morris, Mr McFarlane, Mr Baker, Mr Powell and Mr Lacey.

In the box they found an unfinished letter of resignation in shaky handwriting and £7,000 in cash, which Mr Williams contended was payment for the "hired muscle".

Michael Carpenter, a solicitor representing Mr Baker, said outside Blackfriars Crown Court in London: "He feels absolutely fantastic, a great sense of relief, it has been utterly shocking for him, he has been trying to conduct his business and has had time on remand, has had to hand himself in very early in the morning and spend time in the cells each day and he is just relieved at long last justice has been done."


The Sun -
QPR gun case thrown out


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