In the wake of two unsuccessful legal challenges involving Leeds United FC, the Lord Chancellor has expressed “concern” at what he fears may be an unhealthy trend towards fairer treatment of the club.
The Whites’ defender (see what we did there?) Giuseppe Bellusci was recently cleared of a racist abuse charge after a complaint by Norwich City’s Cameron Jerome was found “not proven”, due largely to the lack of independent corroboration.
More recently, a damages action launched by former United technical director Gwyn Williams has been thrown out in the High Court. Williams had been summarily dismissed for gross misconduct after sending emails to members of Leeds staff which included “obscene” images. It was claimed for Williams that the emails had been part of a “Dirty Leeds” joke, reflecting the “hard but fair” approach of the Super Leeds team in the early 1970s. Williams had claimed compensation of £250,000, but his claim was rejected – the court holding that the sending of “obscene and pornographic e-mails” was “a sufficiently serious breach of the duty of implied trust and confidence as to amount to a repudiation of the contract”.
Now the Lord Chancellor himself, alarmed at two successive high-profile judicial decisions going Leeds United’s way, has stepped into the debate. A statement from the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice advised, inter alia, “In what is still ostensibly a Leeds-hating country, it is deeply unsatisfactory and a waste of opportunity that not one, but two, gift-wrapped chances to hammer the club in the legal arena have, seemingly, been casually passed up. It is this sort of laissez-faire approach to the dispensation of justice that could, eventually, see Leeds overcome its problems and return to top-flight football. This Office is confident that such an eventuality would not be in accord with the wishes of the vast majority of UK citizens, who still hate Leeds and don’t know why, but suspect their dads told them to.”
The current holder of the office of Lord Chancellor, Christopher Stephen Grayling, is himself no stranger to professional and personal controversy. Issues have been raised in the past over his second property expenses claims, his comparison of Moss Side in Manchester to TV’s The Wire, the knowing misuse of crime statistics whilst in opposition to highlight a supposed rise in violent crime, his illegal backing of “Christian Bed & Breakfast owners'” rights to refuse accommodation to gay couples and perhaps most seriously the “loss” of a computer disk identifying the marksman who shot Mark Duggan (The Duggan shooting triggered the 2011 England riots).
The Lord Chancellor’s Office, however, have dismissed suggestions that this somewhat unfortunate history means that the Secretary of State for Justice (a position also held by the Lord Chancellor) cannot hope to hold the moral high ground when criticising the legal actions failing against Leeds. “Mr Grayling is a Tory cabinet minister,” we were told. “Of course he’s going to have things like that on his record. Any self-respecting senior Tory will. It’s what they do. But that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that any suggestion of Leeds getting a fair crack of the whip in the courts has to be extremely bad news for all concerned.”
The Chief Executive of the Football League, Mr. Shaun “The Sheep” Harvey, yesterday threw his support behind the Lord Chancellor’s stated position. “Yes, I’ve been shocked that two judicial bodies, one of them operating under the aegis of the FA itself, have seen fit to find for Leeds lately. It’s not a policy that finds favour with us here at the Football League. We know how to treat Leeds,” added the bald buffoon, whose track record of leading clubs into administration is almost unique, “and we don’t care how stupid and ridiculous it makes us look. We have a job to do here, and we’re inspired by that famous Ken Bates quote from 1984: ‘I shall not rest until Leeds United are kicked out of the Football League. Their fans are the scum of the Earth, absolute animals and a disgrace. I will do everything in my power to make this happen’. Fine words, as we can all agree – and we of the Football League are guided by them. The FA and the High Court would do well, in my opinion, to look at the example we’re setting.”
Leeds United have refused to comment officially on the Lord Chancellor’s intervention, though an anonymous source did wish to address Mr Harvey’s statement. Appearing heavily disguised under a yachting cap, false moustache and rock-star sunglasses, he told Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything “He talk-a sheet, my friend. Sheet. Trus’ me for this, we ain’t-a finish’ with him yet, no way.”
Cameron Jerome’s nickname is “Pinocchio“.