Former Leeds United footballer tells £5million apprenticeship fraud trial of wife's suicide

Aizlewood outside court
Aizlewood outside court

A former football star has spoken of his wife's suicide as he told a court he was focused on his troubled family life at the time of his alleged involvement in a £5 million apprenticeship fraud.

Former Wales international Mark Aizlewood, 57, who played for clubs including Leeds United and Charlton Athletic, told jurors he had neither the "time" or "inclination" to pull off the scam between 2009 and 2011.

Aizlewood, who was capped 39 times for his country and made more than 500 appearances in the football league, described how his wife, Penelope, was suffering from alcohol and drug problems, as well as depression, throughout the period.

A jury at Southwark Crown Court was told on Thursday she took her own life in June last year, more than three years after separating from Aizlewood, who has re-married.

"I genuinely hope nobody ever has to go through it," Aizlewood said, recalling how his daughter, who found the body, phoned him to say: "Dad, mum's dead."

Aizlewood and Paul Sugrue, 56, who played for clubs including Manchester City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff City, are accused of a plot to steal £5 million of public cash intended to fund the training of apprentices, through their business, Luis Michael Training Ltd (LMT).

The pair, along with fellow directors Keith Williams, 45, and Christopher Martin, 53, are alleged to have submitted false accounts to colleges to persuade them to do business with the firm - a provider of football-based apprenticeship schemes for young people.

The company then set about enrolling suitable apprentices to claim money from the colleges, which was provided by the Government.

But prosecutors say some of the apprentices were "ghost learners", who did not exist, while others received just two to three hours training a week.

Giving evidence, Aizlewood told jurors his focus was not his business as he detailed his troubled family life throughout the period of the alleged fraud, referring to coded entries in his personal diaries.

He said he would frequently return home to find his wife intoxicated and often had to act as both parents for their daughters.

Aizlewood said: "I'm a director of a company, but, and it's a big but, my main thought pattern was what I have to do - I have to get done quickly and get back because of the situation there."

He continued: "It just made Luis Michael, in many ways, of no significance. I had bigger battles to fight and therefore, yes I had to do my job and do my duties, but I'm not so focused on it."

His barrister, Nigel Lambert QC, said to Aizlewood: "The allegation is you were involved in a criminal conspiracy during this time and I just want to ask, what really was your mental attitude of that time, what really you were focusing on?"

Aizlewood replied: "On my family. A, I didn't have the inclination and B, I didn't have the time."

The court heard Aizlewood began his football career for Newport County, where he was paid £5 per week, aged 14.

At the height of his career in the late 1980s he commanded a transfer fee of £250,000 - the record was £1 million at the time - and Arsenal and England legend Ian Wright has said Aizlewood's name was the first in his autograph book.

Aizlewood, from Aberdare, Mid Glamorgan, is on trial with Sugrue, from Cardiff, and Williams, from Cemaes Bay, Anglesey.

They each deny two counts of conspiracy to commit false representation.

Jack Harper, 30, who began working with LMT in December 2009, of Southport, Merseyside, is also on trial and denies one charge of conspiracy to commit false representation, an additional count of fraud and one of using a false instrument.

Jurors have been told Martin, from Catmore, in West Berkshire, has pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation, while Stephen Gooding, 53, from of Bridgwater, Somerset has admitted one count of the same charge.

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