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Phone company boss ‘recorded claiming call records used in Rio Ferdinand’s drugs test case paid for’

The boss of an exclusive mobile phone company has reportedly boasted about how his firm can change mobile phone records for his wealthy clients – and claims thousands was paid to a Vodafone employee for the phone records of footballer Rio Ferdinand during an investigation into his missed drugs test.

John Shepherd, who runs Sport Mobile, was recorded claiming that a secret payment of £20,000 was paid to a Vodafone employee for evidence key to an FA probe into the former Manchester United and England defender, the Times today reports.

As part of an undercover investigation, the paper also reports that Shepherd claimed that he helped Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, who also owns Premier League side Newcastle United, during his civil court battle with a former business associate.

However, Mr Shepherd’s reported comments were found by The Times to ‘lack substance’, and there is no suggestion of any improper conduct on Mr Ashley’s part.  

Mr Ashley and Mr Ferdinand also categorically deny the boasts by Mr Shepherd, who denies any wrongdoing and making the claims – which are said to be contained in an undercover recording obtained by the Times. 

MailOnline contacted representatives for all three men for comment, but as of this morning had not received a response. 

Part of the Times report relates to an incident in 2003 when Rio Ferdinand, then an England international and the Premiership’s – now Premier League – most expensive defender in football, missed a drugs test in September that year. 

Ferdinand claimed he had forgotten about the test amid a house move, and had gone shopping, but later contacted the club to offer to take the test.

He provided a sample two days later – which turned out to be negative.

In December 2003, he was banned for eight months, fined £50,000 and ordered him to pay costs estimated at about £250,000 following a two-day Football Association disciplinary hearing into the charge of missing the drugs test.

The independent tribunal found Mr Ferdinand guilty of misconduct after he failed to take the test at United’s Carrington training ground, despite being selected to give a sample to UK Sport doping officials.

However a key issue in the hearing, and after, was the defender’s use of a mobile phone, which he claimed he had used to call Manchester United’s team doctor. There was also questions raised about whether his mobile was on or off at the time. 

A delay in the FA receiving Mr Ferdinand’s phone records sparked FA officials to consider charging the defender with wilfully evading a drugs test.

And in the FA tribunal’s 37-page judgment, released 17 days after the panel announced the ban, it suggested the panel did not believe Mr Ferdinand had simply forgotten about the test. 

Shepherd has now claimed to clients that a Vodafone employee was paid £22,500 for phone records used in Mr Ferdinand’s case, the Times reports.

Mr Ferdinand’s former agent however has dismissed the claims as ‘bravado’.

Mr Shepherd is also reported to have claimed he ‘protected’ phone records that Mike Ashley had been asked to provide in a High Court battle with his former business associate Jeffrey Blue in 2017.

The case, which Mr Ashley won, was brought by Mr Jeffrey over claims Mr Ashley had agreed to pay him £15million if his company’s share price reached £8.

Mr Ashley claimed it was ‘banter’ and that no formal agreement had been made. A judge sided with him, saying no-one would have thought his comments were ‘serious’.

During the case, Sports Mobile was asked to provide phone records for Mr Ashley, but said they were unable to.

Former employees and clients told the Times that they believe Sport Mobile’s systems could be used to change billing data for other clients, while an industry expert said it was ‘easy’ to change records if requested, the paper reports.

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