Trevor Francis’s son cleared of burgling Villa player’s Warwickshire home

A jury has cleared Birmingham City player Trevor Francis’s son over an allegation that he burgled part of former Villa star Lee Hendrie’s luxury Warwickshire home.

After the hearing the Francis family hit out at the police and the Crown Prosecution Service over their conduct of the case, which had been hanging over them for almost two years.

James Francis, 26, of Chancel Court, Solihull, had denied burgling a cottage at Lee Hendrie’s Finwood Lawn home in Rowington between July 1 and August 3 2011.

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The jury at Warwick Crown Court took just one hour and 17 minutes to find him not guilty by a unanimous verdict.

Francis, who was awarded his defence costs from public funds, nodded and mouthed “thank you”, and he and his family kissed and hugged each other and shook hands with his defence team – and also shook the hand of prosecutor Trevor Meegan.

Outside the court, flanked by James Francis, his brother Matt and their father Jim Crocker, the managing partner of defence lawyers Howell & Co read out a statement.

He said: “James Francis, his father Trevor, mother Helen and brother Matthew are obviously delighted and relieved at the jury’s unanimous verdict. They all thank their legal team, their witnesses and the jury.

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“It is perhaps important to record that in our view this case should never have been brought against James Francis, a man of good character.

“This became clear when it transpired in evidence that police officers had lied to and deceived Mr Francis in interview and, worse still, the Crown Prosecution Service had deliberately withheld documentation from the defence.

“That documentation showed incontrovertibly that false and/or dishonest information had been submitted to the Halifax Building Society in support of an insurance claim by the complainants Mr and Mrs Hendrie.

“The defence team had specifically requested these documents from the Crown Prosecution Service but they declined to produce them by asserting that they were not relevant. These documents were only produced on the second day of this trial.

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“This resulted in two years of hell and worry for James and his family, not to speak of the incredible waste of public and private money and resources.”

In his closing speech to the jury, Mr Meegan had asked them to “concentrate on the incontrovertible fingerprint evidence”.

That was a reference to Francis’s thumbprints, one of which were found on a damaged door panel at the cottage and one on the inner backing card from the frame of one of six souvenir football shirts which said to have been stolen.

But during the trial the jury heard that Francis had been told by a police officer that his prints had been found not on one, but on four pieces of torn backing card.

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The burglary was said to have taken place at an unoccupied cottage being used by Hendrie and his partner Emma Cheal, who he has since married, for storage while the main house was being rented out to striker Matt Derbyshire while he was on loan to the Blues.

t was alleged that Francis broke into the cottage in July 2011 and stole designer clothes, a set of golf clubs, a Vertu mobile phone and other property.

The judge, Recorder Ciaron Rankin, told the jury: “The prosecution has to prove his guilt; he does not have to prove his innocence.

“The charge reflects that after the legitimate visit by Mr Francis in May, and probably in July, the cottage was broken into.”