Son of Trevor Francis denies burglary

James Francis Photo: David Jones/PA Wire

The son of former England footballer Trevor Francis has denied stealing ladies' shoes and souvenir football shirts from a cottage in Warwickshire belonging to ex-Aston Villa player Lee Hendrie.

James Francis told Warwick Crown Court he may have left two fingerprints found at the scene of an alleged burglary during a visit to assess how much it would cost to clean the property.

Francis, 26, said he had walked around inside the one-bed cottage at Hendrie's £1.6 million mansion, in late May 2011.

The Crown alleges that Francis, from Solihull, West Midlands, broke into the cottage while Hendrie and his wife were on holiday in Majorca between July 18 and August 3, 2011.

Addressing the jury on the third day of his trial, Francis said he had regarded Hendrie as being "almost like an older brother" during his childhood.

Denying that he had taken anything from Hendrie's home, Francis said he had been asked to give a quote for cleaning the mansion, formerly owned by showjumper Nick Skelton, after it had been rented out for a year.

Answering questions from defence QC Michael Hubbard, Francis told the jury he and his parents had lived in one of two cottages adjoining the mansion, named Finwood Lawn, when it was owned by Mr Skelton.

Describing how he assessed the cost of cleaning the house, Francis told the court: "I knew there were outbuildings so I walked over to the first cottage and I noticed through the window that it was full of boxes."

After deciding not to enter the first cottage, Francis said, he went into the second property, where the alleged burglary took place.

"It was heavily packed up with boxes," he told jurors. "It was full of clutter on the floor which I had to move to navigate a path. There were clothes, cardboard boxes, just generally lots of clutter.

"There would have been many things I touched to navigate myself around... there were clothes on the floor and things like that."

Francis added that he had not been back to Finwood Lawn after May 26, 2011.

During cross-examination by prosecutor Trevor Meegan, Francis said of Hendrie: "We were close when I was much younger, but as I got older we did not see each other as much but we were still friends."

Denying that he had invented his account to explain the presence of his fingerprints on a piece of cardboard and a door panel found at the cottage, Francis said: "I went to the property to provide a quote for cleaning.

"I wasn't looking at the floor and inspecting what I should pick up. I moved a path to navigate myself around the room. That is the only reason I can think of why my fingerprints would have been on there."

James Francis (right) and his father Trevor Francis (left), arriving at Warwickshire Justice Centre yesterday Credit: PA

At the close of the defence case, Trevor Francis gave evidence from the witness box, describing his son as someone who had been brought up to be courteous and polite.

After confirming details of his football career to the court, the former Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City manager, who won 52 caps for England, said he would easily have been able to obtain signed football shirts from Premier League clubs.

The Sky Sports pundit, a friend of former England boss Fabio Capello and current national team manager Roy Hodgson, said: "If I needed a shirt of any England player, it wouldn't be a problem - I could do that at any moment and the response would always be positive."

Francis, Britain's first ever £1 million footballer when he moved to Nottingham Forest in 1979, said he was also active in supporting several charities.

Asked whether James had ever been in any sort of trouble, the 59-year-old replied: "Both my boys were brought up what I would consider to be the correct way - with strong discipline.

"I was quite strict with them, they were always polite, well-mannered, and always knew when to say please and thank you.

"As you can imagine, this, what has happened, has been very, very difficult for the family. I have known Lee Hendrie for a long, long time and that's what makes it so extraordinary. We are a very close family, a very loving family but it's been tough."

"Both my boys were brought up what I would consider to be the correct way - with strong discipline.

"I was quite strict with them, they were always polite, well-mannered, and always knew when to say please and thank you.

– Trevor Francis

Mr Hubbard also read a statement to the jury in which Mr Skelton confirmed that James Francis and his parents had been invited to stay at Finwood Lawn in the mid-2000s.

The Olympic gold-medallist's statement said of James Francis: "He's an honest and a well-mannered young man who was very respectful in every way whilst he stayed at my property. He is a credit to his parents."

The trial was adjourned until Thursday.