Ken Bates is due back in his favourite arena shortly as the litigation fanatic returns to the courtroom – and this time the quarry in his sights is Leeds United AFC itself.
The latest legal wrangle concerns Bates’ abruptly-terminated role as Leeds president – a position he was entitled to as a non-negotiable condition of the sale of Leeds United to present owners GFH Capital. Bates remained in an executive position for some months after the sale, and was then due to move into the honorary office of Club President for a three year term ending in 2016. However, only a matter of months into this arrangement, Bates was dismissed by GFH for “gross misconduct”.
The gross misconduct cited was said to consist of agreeing a contract (worth £500,000) for private jet travel for Bates between Leeds and his home base in Monaco. The agreement was said to have been put in place without the knowledge or consent of the new board. Bates will argue that the contract was set up while he was still chairman and therefore had the executive power to negotiate and authorise such a deal. It has also emerged that, although his term as President came with a £250,000 a year salary – £750,000 over the three year term – Bates had waived this remuneration. He has, after all, frequently claimed that he “never took a penny out of the club”.
The current legal tussle started when Leeds United sought reimbursement from Bates of costs incurred partly from the private jet contract, together with other expenses in excess of £100,000 including meals and Sky TV subscriptions which the club allege were not used to the benefit of the club. Bates has entered a defence against that action, and counter-claimed for “wrongful dismissal” in the matter of the early termination of his Presidency. It is thought that, if Bates were to be successful in a wrongful dismissal claim, he could be entitled to part or all of the £750,000 salary package technically due for the 3 year Presidential term, a sum he had voluntarily waived. Legal costs on top of that could push United’s bill up over one million pounds.
These revelations come at a time when Managing Director David Haigh – a prospective Tory parliamentary candidate for Northampton South and new Chairman of Leeds United Ladies – has revealed that he has injected “a seven figure sum” into Leeds United AFC, to go towards Brian McDermott’s team-strengthening plans in the January transfer window. The irony of this is plain – should Bates be successful in his courtroom strategy, the club might possibly break even over the next few months, with Haigh’s seven-figure sum probably just about offsetting the amount Leeds could have to shell out to the wily Riviera-based octogenarian. Swings and roundabouts.
Leeds United fans will have to cross their fingers and hope that the forthcoming court case ends as many have before, with Ken having to retire to his lair and lick his wounds. Ironically, it’s understood that in those previous instances of legal defeat, it’s often been Leeds United who had to pick up the bill, as Chairman Ken was allegedly sallying forth into battle backed by club funds. We must sit and wait, in the hope that some of those pigeons now come home to roost and that Bates is finally sent packing without having further drained the resources of the club he’s claimed to have twice “saved”.