by David Holmes
AN AUTOGRAPH dealer accused of selling fake signatures claimed he took all reasonable precautions to ensure they were genuine.
Graeme Walker, 45, owner of Watergate Row-based Sporting Icons, was in the witness box at Chester Crown Court where he denies selling sporting memorabilia to the public featuring fake signatures and using unauthorised football club logos without consent.
Walker, a father-of-four, told the court how his hobby for collecting memorabilia developed into a business venture after he grew fed up with being away from his wife and children while working all over the country as an electrician.
He met co-defendant Faisal Madani, 43, who denies supplying forged signatures, because he could provide stock for his forthcoming shop.
Walker said Madani had contacts at Manchester United including former player Mickey Thomas and told him he was the brother of a former United director, although the court had earlier heard from ex-Manchester United director Amer Al Midani who said he was not related.
Walker recalled Madani taking phone calls in his presence which he said related to former players including Viv Anderson and Danny Crerand, son of former Man Utd midfielder Paddy Crerand.
He added: “He also showed me pictures of himself with football players and football players with his wife as well. So I didn’t have a problem. Everything was fine.”
The court heard Sporting Icons opened in December 2003 with a 10 year lease on the building which cost £30,000 a year in rent and rates.
According to Walker, Madani supplied 80% of the football-related sporting memorabilia. He had been led to believe a company operated by Madani which sent footballers on holiday to Dubai gained autographs in return.
Paul Lawton, defending, for Walker, asked about the prosecution’s claim that on “two or three occasions” alarm bells were sounding over the authenticity of memorabilia being supplied to him, which Walker should have heeded.
But Walker said he interpreted disputes over George Best-signed and David Beckham-signed memorabilia supplied by Madani as being down to the actions of people with a vested financial interest.
Walker was asked about specific goods including Jonny Wilkinson-signed items.
Customer Mrs Jean Davison had bought an England rugby jersey and photo, both of which were supposed to be signed by Wilkinson, and were supplied by Madani. Walker, who now accepts the signatures were not genuine, said he compared the autographs with the England team sheet which had printed signatures of the players.
Walker was asked about a photo of Sir Alex Ferguson and Cristiano Ronaldo, said to feature forged signatures, bought in a test purchase by Andrea Murphy, a trade marks manager for Manchester United. Asked why he believed the Ferguson signature was genuine, Walker said he had compared it with the one on Manchester United team cards and programmes.
The defendant was also questioned about an England FA cap bought by a Richard Clarke advertised as issued to Tony Woodcock for playing in the game against Luxembourg in 1982. The company which manufactures the cap says it is a poor quality fake.
But Walker said had in his possession an England cap donated by former player Peter Barnes from a match against Brazil in the 1977-78 season. Barnes had donated the cap to him because at the time he was raising money for the cardio thoracic centre at Broadgreen Hospital in Liverpool which saved his life after he suffered a heart attack.
Asked by Mr Lawton if he had thought the caps were the same, Walker replied: “To my mind, yes”.
The trial continues.