Suspended sentence for former Scottish footballer in bribery trial

A former Scottish footballer and two agents convicted of bribery offences following an undercover newspaper investigation have received suspended prison sentences.
Former Barnsley assistant coach Tommy Wright arrives at Southwark Crown Court for sentencing. Picture: Yui Mok/PA WireFormer Barnsley assistant coach Tommy Wright arrives at Southwark Crown Court for sentencing. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire
Former Barnsley assistant coach Tommy Wright arrives at Southwark Crown Court for sentencing. Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Tommy Wright, 54, the former assistant head coach of Barnsley, was found guilty by a jury of accepting a £5,000 bribe to leak commercial information about players.

Dunfermline-born Wright played most of his career in England but had brief spells at St Johnstone and Livingston.

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He stood trial alongside two football agents - Giuseppe "Pino" Pagliara, 64, of Bury, Greater Manchester, and Dax Price, 48, of Sittingbourne, Kent - who were both convicted of paying a bribe.

The trio, brought to trial following the Daily Telegraph's probe into corruption in football in 2016, were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on Friday.

Judge Jeffrey Pegden QC handed Wright a 12-month sentence, suspended for 12 months, to be served concurrently on each of two counts of receiving or accepting a bribe in contravention of the Bribery Act 2000.

Price received a sentence of 18 months, suspended for 18 months, to be served concurrently on each of two charges of offering or promising a bribe contrary to the same act.

Pagliara was given a two-year sentence, suspended for two years, also concurrent on two charges of offering or promising a bribe.

Wright, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was handed an envelope of cash during reporter Claire Newell's investigation, the trial was told.

The journalist, using the pseudonym Claire Taylor, posed as a representative of a fake sports management company pretending to want to invest in football players in the UK.

In meetings with Price and Pagliara they claimed football club managers were "getting backhanders, 100%" to secure lucrative deals.

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Pagliara, originally from Italy, told Ms Newell in undercover footage that the industry is "not for the fainthearted" or "morally correct people".

The pair proposed schemes which would have seen them becoming players' agents, maintaining ownership of them and profiting from an onward sale.

The jury was told that such "third-party ownership" arrangements were banned by the English Football Association (FA) in 2009 and by Fifa, the world football governing body, in 2015.

Prosecutor Brian O'Neill QC said the pair's plans were "all to be facilitated by bribery".

The court heard Wright accepted payment to encourage players to appoint Price and Pagliara as their agents and help place players at Barnsley.

But on Friday, Mr O'Neill told the judge there was "no realistic prospect" of third-party owned players being placed at Barnsley due to the opposition of former club owner Patrick Cryne.

The judge found Pagliara "played the leading role" in the offending, with he and Price displaying a "willingness ... to be involved in corrupt practices" from their very first meeting with Ms Newell.

"You were both most motivated by the expectation of substantial financial gain," he said.

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He told Wright: "You did in my view abuse your position of trust".

The judge said he was suspending Pagliara's sentence so he could care for his wife and Price's because of the impact jail time would have on his children.

He hailed Wright's "devotion to football and particularly the development of young players" but criticised his "utterly foolish actions, which I have concluded were wholly out of character".

The judge said the defendants should not think his "exceptional" decision to give suspended sentences "detracts in any way from the seriousness of your offending".

The trial heard Pagliara and Price made boasts about their footballing links alongside unsubstantiated claims about the behaviour of prominent footballing figures.

Lewis Power QC, representing Wright, said his motivation for getting involved with Pagliara and Price was to turn Barnsley into a better club.

Wright admitted accepting the £5,000 but said he paid tax on it and declared it to HMRC.

Pagliara claimed talk of corruption in football was "grandstanding" to impress Ms Newell and to encourage her to purchase a football club.

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On Friday, lawyers for the three men called for suspended sentences, citing their lack of previous convictions, good characters and impact on their families.

Nathaniel Rudolf, for Pagliara, suggested his offending may not have happened but for the Daily Telegraph's investigation.

He said Pagliara, primary carer for his wife, had taken the "opportunity" put in front of him, but his actions were "not in any way close" to other corrupt practices such as match-fixing.

Mr Rudolf said Pagliara, who was never registered as an agent with the FA, was driven by financial "desperation", with his current assets amounting to "zero".

Graham Trembath QC, representing Price, said the trial revealed he was "lacking in sophistication" and had been "dazzled" and "tempted" by a company purporting to have millions of pounds to invest in football.

He argued Price, now disqualified from acting as an agent by the FA, was "highly unlikely" to have become involved if he had not been introduced to Ms Newell by Pagliara.

Mr Power said Wright's current club Swindon Town continued to stand by him, with his conviction leaving his family "devastated".

He said Wright was "manipulated by others", but he "understands and respects" the jury's verdict.

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In a letter read out in court, Wright admitted to "naivety", saying he was "deeply sorry and thoroughly ashamed" of the "embarrassment" he had brought to his family and the football community.

Pagliara was also ordered to complete 300 hours of unpaid community work and will be subject to a four-month electronically-tagged home curfew.

Price must do 250 hours of unpaid community work and observe a three-month electronically-tagged curfew.

Wright was ordered to pay £5,000 back to the Daily Telegraph within 28 days as well as £3,000 prosecutions costs within 12 months.