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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 June 2006, 10:31 GMT 11:31 UK
Trial shone light on QPR 'soap opera'
By Chris Summers
BBC News

Seven men have been cleared of forcing a director of Queens Park Rangers football club to resign at gunpoint moments before the start of a match. The allegation was set against the background of a struggle for power at the club.

If it had been scripted in an episode of Footballers' Wives it would have appeared far-fetched.

Andy Baker
Andy Baker (pictured), 40, from North Petherton, Somerset - acquitted
Aaron Lacey, 37, from Watford, Hertfordshire - acquitted
David Davenport, 38, from Chesham, Bucks - acquitted
Michael Reynolds, 45, from Wood Green, north London - acquitted
David Morris, 50, from Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire - acquitted
John McFarlane, 39, from Hayes, west London - acquitted
Barry Powell, 34, from Greenford, west London - acquitted
Daniel Morris (David's brother) - has disappeared. A European warrant has been issued for his arrest

But what allegedly happened behind the scenes at QPR's Loftus Road ground before the kick-off in their first game of the 2005/06 season sounded stranger still.

Gianni Paladini, a 60-year-old former football agent whose client list had included top stars such as Fabrizio Ravanelli, Benito Carbone and Juninho, became involved with QPR in the summer of 2004.

The club, based in west London, finished fifth in the inaugural season of the FA Premier League but they dropped out of the lucrative elite in 1996 and had struggled financially ever since.

Also in 1996, music tycoon Chris Wright took over the club, but five years later he was forced to put the club into administration due to crippling debts.

A year later the club got out of administration but only after securing a 10m loan from the ABC Corporation, who are based in Panama.

The interest on the loan is around 1m a year and, as one QPR fan told the BBC News Website: "The club has never made a profit of 1m, so I don't know where the money is coming from to pay the interest."

This was the background of financial desperation out of which Mr Paladini emerged.

A promising teenage footballer, he had been forced to give up the game at the age of 18, before playing a single game for his home town club Napoli.

Gianni Paladini
Gianni Paladini wept in court when he testified

He became an interpreter in the football industry and eventually an agent

Mr Paladini, who had come to Britain in the 1960s, lived in Solihull, just outside Birmingham with his wife, Olga, and children Stephen and Kate.

In 2003 he had expressed an interest in taking over another cash-strapped club, Staffordshire-based Port Vale, but when that fell through he turned his attention to QPR and bought 600,000 worth of shares.

Desperate for cash

The trial at Blackfriars Crown Court heard that the QPR board was glad to meet someone who wanted to inject money into the club.

In fact Mr Paladini had remortgaged one of his homes and was far from the multi-millionaire saviour who supporters thought would rescue their club.

By August 2005 several people within the club had become hostile towards Mr Paladini and were suspicious about his plans for the club.

Aaron Lacey
Aaron Lacey was cleared of holding a gun at Mr Paladini's head

On 13 August nearly 14,000 fans turned up to see QPR play Sheffield United.

Mr Paladini arrived at the ground around 2pm with his son, daughter and grandson Gianluca, who was due to be the club's mascot that day.

The trial heard he went upstairs to the chairman's suite and bumped into David Morris, the owner of a 2% share in the club, who asked to have a private word with him.

Mr Paladini claimed he was led into the chief executive's office and was surrounded by a group of thugs.

Mr Paladini, a slender, bespectacled figure, said he had been terrified and claimed that at one point one of the gang held a gun at his head and said: "Sign, sign the paper - we'll kill you."

He claimed he was forced to sign several documents resigning from the club and handing over his 14.7% stake in the club. Police never found the documents, only a scrunched up piece of paper in Mr Paladini's handwriting.

Mauro Milanese (right) in a scuffle with Watford players
Mr Paladini brought in players like Mauro Milanese (right)

Mr Paladini's family alerted the police and armed officers arrived at half time and arrested Mr Morris and several other people.

They questioned Mr Paladini who, at one point, broke away from the interview to go to the directors' box and celebrate a goal by QPR's Marc Bircham.

Several men were eventually charged with conspiracy to commit blackmail, false imprisonment and possession of a firearm.

The prosecution claimed Andy Baker had been hired by Mr Morris to recruit a gang of hard men to intimidate Mr Paladini.

But giving evidence at the trial, Mr Baker said he had been invited as a guest of Mr Morris's brother Dan and was hoping to tout for the club's lucrative stewarding contract, which was up for renewal.

Asked about the 7,000 found by police in the pocket of his hooded top he said part of it was wages for his employees and the rest was "to grease some wheels at QPR to help us get the (stewarding) contract."

On 28 June a jury at Blackfriars Crown Court found Mr Baker and three other men not guilty of all charges. Three other men had already been acquitted.

Boardroom coup

But while 13 August 2005 was the most dramatic day in the history of the soap opera which is QPR, the saga is not over.

Mr Paladini, backed by several friends and fellow investors - including Brazilian World Cup winner Dunga and two Monaco-based companies - ousted chairman Bill Power shortly after the incident.

In February this year the club's highly-rated manager Ian Holloway left after a series of rows with Mr Paladini, who had brought in players including Mauro Milanese, Marc Nygaard and Dean Sturridge.

During the trial Mr Paladini had been asked by Mr Morris's barrister, Jim Sturman QC: "Did you ever say to manager Ian Holloway that you would kill him?"

"In a funny way, yes, but it didn't mean anything at all," replied Mr Paladini.

  • Earlier this year QPR's former chairman Bill Power joined the board of directors at Swindon Town and promised to invest 1m in his new club.

    Investor sinks 1m into Swindon
    27 Apr 06 |  Wiltshire

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