FRENCH footballer Stephane Paille, who signed last year forHearts in a bid to rebuild his career following a cannabis incident in his home country, was last night released by the Edinburgh club for taking a prohibited drug.

France's Footballer of the Year in 1989 became the first player to be caught in almost a decade of random testing by the Scottish Football Association, and his career now seems in jeopardy.

The Premier Division team terminated the 31-year-old's contract after the striker was found to have tested positive for an amphetamine-based medicament after a match with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, on April 5.

Hearts took the action after the Scottish Football Association, which over the past 18 months has expanded its programme of drug testing, imposed a four-month ban from July 19, after investigating the case.

That ban is now likely to be passed on to world football with Hearts announcement that Paille had been released.

Hearts Chief Executive Chris Robinson said last night they were ''deeply disappointed'' at Paille's behaviour.

''We regret to announce that by mutual agreement Steph-ane Paille has been released from his contract as a player with Heart of Midlothian. This follows a ban imposed by the SFA General Purposes Committee for a breach of the Doping Charter.

''Hearts have fully co-operated with the SFA and are fully supportive of the actions of the committee, and regret that Stephane Paille has been in

breach of the regulations having been given an opportunity by the club following a previous similar situation while playing professional football in France.''

The Scottish Professional Footballers Association said that Paille had taken the drug Dinintel to try and control a weight problem.

Its secretary, Mr Tony Higgins, said it was ''devastated'' for Paille, and insisted the player did not take the drug as ''performance-enhancing''.

Mr David Macauley, campaigns director for Scotland Against Drugs, praising Hearts last night for their quick action, said: ''It sends a clear message - drugs and sport don't mix. Sportsmen are seen by young people as ambassadors. This action by Hearts has set the standard..''

Scottish football has been rocked before by similar revelations. Barry Lavety, now with Hibernian, spent six weeks at a rehabilitation centre after taking drugs while playing as a striker with Paisley club St Mirren.

He later spoke of the time he took drugs at an Ayrshire rave, and pledged that he would never repeat the action.

The SFA statement on Paille claimed he denied using the drug when randomly tested after the Kilmarnock game, which was won 1-0 by the Ayrshire club.

Its spokesman, Mr David Findlay, said that after considering the written and oral submissions provided by a number of parties, including the player and Hearts' representatives, its general committee concluded a breach of its doping regulations had occurred.

All the procedures stipulated in the SFA Charter Against Doping had been followed and this had been accepted by the player and club.

The player was last night said to be in hiding by the SPFA, but said through the association that he would release a statement today.