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Owen appears at sport forgery trial; Men accused of selling fakes.

Byline: By ADAM JUPP Chief Reporter

TOON striker Michael Owen today arrived to give evidence at the trial of two men accused of flogging forged memorabilia.

Sporting Icons owner Graeme Walker, 45, and former business partner Faisal Madani, 42, are accused of selling and offering a variety of sporting memorabilia items, including shirts and photographs, with faked autographs of stars.

Madani faces 20 charges under the Trade Descriptions Act and the Trademarks Act and Walker faces 53 similar offences, which also include counts under the Theft Act and fraudulent trading under the Companies Act.

Both Walker, of Mountain View Close, Connah's Quay, Deeside, and Madani, of Grange Road, Stockport, Greater Manchester, deny the charges.

Among the items under the spotlight are England armbands apparently signed by Magpies centre-forward Owen.

Chester Crown Court heard evidence from handwriting expert Kim Hughes that there were "significant" differences between some of the forged signatures and specimen autographs supplied by players including Owen, Steven Gerrard and Ian Rush.

The court was also shown two England armbands apparently signed by Owen but, after comparing the signature with those provided by the player, Mr Hughes said: "Those are not genuine signatures of Michael Owen."

Owen today arrived at court with Steven Gerrard to give evidence to the trial.

A shirt linked to Gerrard has also been scrutinised by Mr Hughes. He told the court that a framed No 8 Liverpool shirt had the forged signature of Steven Gerrard written on it.

He said: "This is not a genuine signature."

When asked what his findings were when he examined the signature of Ian Rush on a 1977 Liverpool football shirt, Mr Hughes told the court: "There are conclusive findings that that is not a genuine signature of Ian Rush."

The court was also shown letters written by Mr Hughes to Barry Essay at Cheshire Trading Standards about the investigation. In one Mr Hughes said there should be a wider investigation into faked signatures on sporting memorabilia on sale.

Mr Hughes also said in one of the letters that he had visited sporting memorabilia shops in Birmingham to look for any signs of forged signatures.

Asked whether the shops in Birmingham had been under investigation by Trading Standards, Mr Hughes replied: "No."

Later Mr Hughes was asked: "Do you think the three years you have been involved with trading standards have compromised your independence in this investigation?"

Mr Hughes said: "No." The trial continues.

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GIVING EVIDENCE: Michael Owen today
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Feb 26, 2008
Words:412
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