The Fifth Estate

As far as I can ascertain, Bella Caledonia, is an on-line journal that promotes Scottish independence. The leaked ‘Top Secret’ document, that was written by John Swinney for the SNP hierarchy, lifted the lid on the economic case behind independence. It was obvious that the capital flight would have led to the demise of the financial services sectors in Edinburgh and Glasgow with the permanent loss of up to 200,000 jobs. Oil, which Mr Swinney proposed would offset this PAYE, NI and Corporation Tax deficit, was pegged at north of $113 per barrel. It’s now less than $30. North Sea Oil and Gas are not booming, they are in decline. The proposed Expro activity of a shelf west of The Shetlands is no longer commercially viable. With a deficit of £7b and less individuals to tax, the end result would have been a catastrophe. Those who voted for independence were primarily drawn from the sinecures of public service. Scotland would have had to go cap in hand to The World Bank to educate our children. Very few things leave a more bitter taste in my mouth than the bully boys of the SNP. Their stupidity took my breath away.

James Doleman has been published on Bella Caledonia. His tweets from courts in London and Edinburgh have kept readers of this site abreast of developments. I commend those who crowd funded Mr Doleman. His politics and the football team he supports are of no relevance to me. He is one of the finest journalists we have in Scotland. He is independent. He does not have to bend to the will of the current incumbents of the Rangers boardroom.

Miss Haggerty was sacked less than a week after penning a column about the abuse she has experienced as a journalist, much of which has come from fans of Rangers Football Club following her work editing a book about the financial collapse at Ibrox. In that column, she detailed how groups connected to Rangers had tried to get her sacked from positions she has held since editing Downfall. One of her persecutors was imprisoned for six months.

 
Within days of Miss Haggerty’s aricle being published in The Sunday Herald, she was fired. She was also informed that she was prohibited from writing for any Newsquest title. This edict precludes Miss Haggerty from being commissioned by, or working for, 300 titles in the UK. Newsquest is the third largest UK publisher of regional and national newspapers.

 

Her tweet of solidarity with Graham Spiers, who was under a deluge of on-line abuse, was a response to a colleague in her trade being subjected to the hatred that she has experienced first hand. Magnus Llewellin informed her by telephone of his rationale for her dismissal. He stated that “representatives of Rangers Football Club” had brought her tweets to the attention of the Herald. The paper was under so much legal pressure that he felt he had no option but to let her go. He also informed her that Neil MacKay, editor of the Sunday Herald, had fought her corner to stop it happening, but in the end he was overruled. Mr Llewellin is the editor-in-chief of a group of titles getting set to make yet another round of editorial cuts amid an increasingly difficult financial environment for newspapers.

 

Who were these representatives of Rangers Football Club? We are aware that one of them is a director at the club. Is it possible that Je Suis Graham, the notorious Islamaphobe, ‘redeemed’ himself with a successful petition to The Herald Group after his spectacular failure at The Belfast Telegraph? This would not surprise readers of this site. In The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie, the two ‘angels’ that were reputed to be envoys of God to Muhammad, are cast as venal stowaways on a British Airways flight to Heathrow Airport. The offence is obvious. The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr is a quote attributed to Muhammad. There is nothing sacred about the ink at The Herald Group.

 

Mr Llewellin’s decision was significant. The notion that the Herald can provide coverage “without fear or favour” has been called into question. The Herald threw two journalists under the bus and that decision will have consequences both in terms of reader trust and what vested interests now think they may be able to get away with.

 

Will anyone read the copy of Jack, Lindsay and Williams and accept it as objective reportage, or will their journalism be dismissed as a sop to the vested interests of Rangers Football Club? Chris Union Jack will not be affected by Mr Llewellin’s decision. He is effectively running a Rangers fanzine at The Evening Times. Most fanzines include editorials that question the ambition of the board at the club they follow. Mr Jack’s fanzine does not ask questions. He slavishly reproduces the positive spin of Je Suis Graham and Level 5. We expect more of the same from Mr Jack. He is a shoe-in for the ‘Hans Christian Andersen’ award for pro King copy

 

However Mr Lindsay and Mr Williams consider themselves as serious journalists, despite the “Engine-room Subsidiary” gaffe of the latter. Will either criticize the dearth of signings by Mark Warburton, and his failure to buy Allan, Diagouraga and O’Halloran? Or will they rhapsodise on the loan signing of King, whose last minute goal effectively secured automatic promotion for Rangers? I anticipate the latter.

 

Those who criticize the ruling junta at Rangers will be gagged more effectively than Ashley’s interdicts. We have now reverted to the era where James Traynor sent his copy to SDM and Craig Whyte for approval. We can but hope that Bella Caledonia, one of the standard bearers of the fifth estate, continues to flourish as Mr Llewellin expedites the demise of the fourth estate.

 

Burning Bridges

Today’s proceedings in court exposed the myth of continuation. It debunked the duality. Mr Walker, for Charles Green, stated that only die-hard supporters of Rangers believed in this myth. It follows that Neil Doncaster, Alan McRae and Darryl Broadfoot are die-hard supporters of Rangers as they have accepted this myth. There is enough egg on their collective faces to make a family size omelette. The ideals of sporting governance have clearly been subverted to serve a partisan perspective.

Magnus Llewellin, Editor in Chief of The Herald, is prepared to sacrifice journalistic integrity to serve a partisan perspective. Today’s events remind me of the occasion when Chris Graham lied that he had received assurances from The Belfast Telegraph that Phil Mac Giolla Bhain would not be invited to make any further contributions as a freelance journalist. He created a narrative of comments that he attributed to Gail Walker. Ms Walker had never heard of the RST or Graham and stated that she would continue to value the contributions of Phil Mac. I commend her integrity. The Herald has no integrity whatsoever.

The Evening Times is a Rangers fanzine in all but name. Chris Jack has done more to put ‘bums on seats’ at Ibrox than King’s ‘generations’ pitch. Each and every loan player or out of contract signing is photographed carrying a placard promoting season card sales or pay at the gate. The only issue that is open to debate is whether this promotion is paid for by Rangers via Level 5, or if photographs are only permitted on a quid pro quo basis.

Graham Spiers is an award-winning journalist. He has won the accolade of Sports Journalist of the year on four occasions. He is a Rangers supporter who seeks reform and the eradication of illegal songs at Ibrox. On 30th December he wrote an article where he stated that one of the current directors is an advocate of the Billy Boys anthem and that the current board lacked the mettle to address this issue. Under pressure from a Rangers director, Magnus Llewellin threw him under a bus by issuing an apology on his behalf. Mr Spiers chose, in his own words, to put semtex under any bridges being built where he accepted this skewed narrative. He will no longer work for such a compromised organ.

Mr Llewellin then decided to eradicate another thorn in the side of those sensitive souls in the Rangers board room. Angela Haggerty, who committed the ‘heinous’ crime of editing a book, supported Mr Spiers and was summarily dismissed from her position on the Sunday Herald prior to Ms Haggerty making any contributions.

During The Falklands war in 1982, The Glasgow Herald was dismissed as a provincial newspaper and excluded from M.O.D. briefings. It subsequently changed its name to The Herald to shake off the provincial epithet. The actions of Mr Llewellin are those one might expect of a newspaper in South America where the government junta is on the payroll of a drug cartel. From this day onwards. The Herald will be ignored on the news stands It is a small-minded provincial newspaper in pursuit of a commercial imperative. It is best avoided.

RIFC Rebuttal

Having returned to court from lunch, Lady Dorrian, Lord Bracadale and Lord Malcolm have invited Mr Walker to rebut the case presented by Mr Green’s counsel. As was stated in the original hearing, Charles Green used the same firm of solicitors as Andy Coulson to draw up his indemnity agreement.

Mr Walker counters that the indemnity clause does not use clear words. He asks
why would anyone want to take on a liability for someone else’s negligence? He posits that the legal bills of an employee accused of ‘fiddling their expenses‘ would not be met and that ‘everyone was trying to get in the same position as Mr Coulson.

Mr Walker attests that “no-one could have contemplated picking up the tab for this sort of crime.” Mr Walker asks the question “can the victim (RIFC) be the indemnifier?” Mr Walker goes further by stating that Green’s appeal is not even close to the line of consideration. He also notes that the alleged crimes occurred prior to his appointment as CEO. Walker posits that the court should consider how “sensible business people” would understand the legal indemnity clause and that the court must distinguish between crimes carried out for personal gain as opposed to those seeking an advantage for his employers. Mr Walker states that Andy Coulson may have committed a crime but that this was done through a “misconceived understanding of his duties.”  I should add that Mr Coulson was convicted and imprisoned for his crimes. He sold his assets, including his house to pay for his defence costs, and is awaiting full recompense by News International’s insurer.
Lord Bracadale asks Walker if he is drawing a distinction between accidental and deliberate criminal conduct? Mr Walker states that he is not doing so. This is not surprising given the Coulson case precedent.

Lord Malcolm notes that the original judgment  “does not agonise on the nature of Rangers football club.” Mr Walker states that “in common parlance people do not talk about Rangers football club meaning Sevco Scotland.” Mr Walker posits that the club is the ‘trading entity.

Lord Malcolm states “I don’t think this is going to work Mr Walker. You cannot have it both ways.”

Lady Dorrian inquires “why would they do that?” (make a distinction between club and company).

Lord Malcolm responded that Rangers only talked about two different entities ‘so they could still say they won the league.’ 

Mr Walker is attempting to make the case that Green was only indemnified by being CEO of the club, and not as CEO of the limited company. Lord Bracadale countered that it would be”odd” if Green would not be indemnified as CEO of the Ltd company. At this point Mr Walker turns to Mr Blair for instructions.

Lord Malcolm opines that if witnesses were called “there is a great danger of self-serving evidence from the old regime”

At this point in proceedings, Mr Walker ends his submissions. Mr Dewar for Green is then invited to address the court.  Mr Dewar states that “the more this debate goes on the more the danger we make this more complicated than it really is.”

At this point the hearings ends. The written judgement will follow

The Myth of Continuity

Alan Dewar QC, representing Charles Green at the Inner House of the Court of Session, has stated that  ” The Rangers football club does not exist, it is an idea in people’s minds, a myth of continuity. No-one knows what the Rangers football club is, but it has no legal personality.

Mr Dewar adds that ” you can only be the chairman of an entity that has a legal personality. Sevco Scotland, and it alone, bought the assets and carried on the business. The concept of the Rangers Institution continuing exists only in the minds of die hard supporters.

Mr Dewar was responding to a question by one of the three appeal court judges who inquired: “Why is it so important that Rangers football club is Sevco Scotland rather than an institution going back 100 years?”

Mr Dewar emphasized that Green bought ” the business and assets of the Rangers entity” then acted on behalf of, and for the benefit of the shareholders of Sevco Scotland. Jonathan Brown, who presented Mr Green’s original petition to Lord Doherty, is also representing Green at the hearing. RIFC’ counsel is Mr Walker. RIFC’s instructing solicitors, Anderson Strathern, are represented by RIFC Company Secretary James Blair.

Mr Dewar reminds the court that the previous judge called the notion that Rangers should pay Green’s legal bills in a criminal matter as “absurd.” Mr Dewar cites the case precedent that the appeal court ruled in favour of former News of the World editor Andy Coulson in a similar case. Any legal indemnity would be pointless unless it also covered criminal charges. Mr Dewar continues that when the compromise agreement was signed. “it was known that legal proceedings were likely.”

Mr Dewar notes that the appeal court ruling in the Coulson case made no distinction between civil and criminal charges in News International’s legal indemnity insurance clause. Mr Dewar states that there is no moral issue over paying legal bills in a criminal case, and adds that  “The legal aid board does it every day.” Mr Dewar posited that the previous judge, Lord Doherty “showed no appreciation” that a future jury could convict Green of criminal acts but acquit him of conspiracy charges. Mr Dewar questioned the competence of Lord Doherty. He argued that he misunderstood the nature of the conspiracy charges against Green.

Mr Dewar stressed that the criminal trial is some way off and that there may be a third indictment.He noted that the criminal indictment against Charles Green is an allegation of a conspiracy pre-dating the purchase of RFC assets. As Chairman of Sevco Scotland, Mr Green was acting in the interests of the company and not just personal interests. Mr Green was ‘the face of the entity that is Rangers Football Club.’

Green’s case is that his acquisition of the assets of Rangers put him in an invidious position. Due to a dispute on the ownership of these assets,indictments were anticipated. The prospect of indictments was known to Imran Ahmad, Malcolm Murray and Brian Stockbridge when they included legal cover in his severance/compromise agreement. Mr Dewar argued that there was a case precedent in the Andy Coulson appeal where no distinction between criminal charges was made.

Mr Walker for RIFC, when he presents his argument this afternoon, will in my informed opinion, present case precedents where criminal activity precluded indemnity. However it is important to note that Mr Green has not been found guilty of any charges at this time.

Without Fear or Favour?

The concept of a free press in Scottish football reportage is something of a misnomer. From 1988 to 2011, Rangers escaped scrutiny in the Scottish media. It’s interesting to note that Graham Spiers was one of the journalists who was invited to attend the succulent lamb banquet in 1998 at David Murray’s Jersey Estate. As Traynor, Spiers and Forsyth dined from the crumbs off SDM’s table, he set in train two tax avoidance strategies and an excessive loan culture that resulted in the demise of the club. The media should have been keeping an eye on Murray, not jockeying for positions for his latest PR directive.

The print media are in decline. The Herald relies on advertising revenues to balance their books. The news that two directors of Rangers withdrew a £40,000 account from The Herald, as reported on January 11, has caused considerable concern to the beleaguered broadsheet. The Sports Editor was evidently under some pressure to issue an apology in regard to an article by Graham Spiers, even though the veracity of his comments has not been questioned. The current regime at Rangers have done nothing to curb the offensive anthems at Ibrox, but they don’t want this to be in the public domain.

The ‘red tops’ confine themselves to acres of print in regard to the latest player targets for Mark Warburton, but fail to mention that Rangers are running on fumes and that any available funds have been ring-fenced to pay for King’s litigation costs. Not one journalist from this sector has paused to ask why any Rangers chairman is engaging in so much litigation. To do so they would have to confront the fact that this is a premium that Rangers must bear to allow a career criminal like King on the board. His claims of appreciable wealth are built on sand. As we have seen with Allan, Diagouraga and O’Halloran, we clearly cannot compete to land any player that commands a fee of upwards of £200,000. CFC buy players for £millions, blood them in UEFA tournaments where they are watched by English Premiership scouts, and sell them for eight figures. Rangers are signing out of contract players from the lower echelons of English League One. Where is the £30m that they heralded to the fans when King was seizing control. He apparently slipped into Glasgow last night. Are they planning a short trip to the five star Mar Hall to buttonhole him on his broken promises and lies? They would not begin to even consider this. They would prefer to talk about  £5.75m of loans that are awaiting the recompense of equity and ignoring the commercial terms of the £5m loan that was raised to pay off Ashley.

Waging war with the Herald and the BBC is a flawed business strategy. Chris McLaughlin’s ban was temporarily revoked to take advantage of £400,000 of BBC broadcasting revenue, then reinstated with indecent haste. As for the Herald, Chris Jack has provided tens of thousands of free publicity for Rangers ST sales and pay at the gate revenue.

One of the best attended games in British football will be the Rangers v Falkirk game on Saturday.  Even with Halliday’s ban, I predict that Rangers will prevail and that Waghorn will score from the penalty spot. My predictions for games at Ibrox have been unerringly accurate. We should be promoting this game via the state broadcaster, not banning journalists for accurate reports of arrests at the game when Hibs were the visitors.

The new regime at Ibrox have been given an easy ride by the media. They paid Level 5 handsomely for propagating innumerable puff pieces. Rangers are by far the biggest story in the Scottish press. Would it not be preferable if this was for the right reasons?

Graham Spiers

Graham Spiers is in the news again. An apology by The Herald in regard to an allegation by Mr Spiers that one of the current Rangers directors approves of the proscribed song The Billy Boys was later countered by Mr Spiers. In his personal statement he did not withdraw his allegation, or his conclusion that the current board lacks the mettle to effect change in the sectarian attitudes of what he claims is an underclass at Ibrox. His article in The Herald in 2012 provides an insight to his plight:

“My heart sank as I watched last week’s Channel Four News item about critics of Rangers FC coming in for threats or menacing intimidation from either fans or rogue elements with links to the Ibrox club. I’ve been there, had the treatment, received such threats myself. It was all highly familiar, even if I’ve never written publicly about it until now.

One of Channel 4’s interviewees was Gary Allan, the Scottish QC, who said that, after his involvement with an SFA panel which punished Rangers for bringing the game into disrepute, Strathclyde Police had summoned him to an urgent meeting due to threats being made against him. Allan spoke of the subsequent threats to himself and his family. It was obvious he regretted ever getting embroiled with Rangers in the first place.

My own story of covering Rangers – and being critical of certain aspects of the club – has incurred similar menace. It all started around 10 years ago when, as chief sports writer on The Herald, I began focusing on the bigoted singing issue over which the club was then wearyingly engaged with its supporters. After a number of pieces highlighting this blight upon Rangers, the threatening letters, the phone calls and the internet poison on Rangers fans’ sites all began to build in momentum against me.

Round about 2005, my then editor at The Herald phoned me and said: “How do you feel about this? We have a concern about it at the paper. We think we should speak to the police about your security.” I was pretty nonplussed to hear this, not least because, in truth, I had never been that bothered by it. “I don’t think we need to go that far,” I told my editor. “I really don’t think it’s that bad, is it?” In the end, we agreed to let it lie in terms of police involvement.

Yet the threats towards me grew. It seemed to me they came from a kind of rogue, angry underclass which appeared to have attached itself to the club. Any sweeping generalisations about Rangers fans, however, were both futile and inaccurate. The fact was, whenever I engaged in pub debate with Rangers fans – which was often – the conversation was normally civil, if combative.

But then came another incident, when the press bus stopped 200 yards short of the Villarreal stadium on a Champions League night with Rangers in 2006. I got fairly bumped around and was spat at as we made our way through the Rangers throngs to the arena. That was the night when the Villarreal team bus got pelted and suffered a smashed window, and just months before Uefa censured Rangers for bigoted chanting. On the latter, a few Rangers fans on the fervid message-boards blamed me for somehow “shopping” the club to Uefa via my critical editorials on the subject.

Fast forward to 2011, by which time we’d had the disturbances in Manchester involving Rangers fans, and their offensive singing at the 2011 League Cup final, both of which caused the club further headaches. Again, I’d written critically on these topics, which only kept the poison flowing in my direction.

Then, on the morning of April 21 last year (2011), colleagues began texting me about a fresh alarm. The Daily Record had published a picture of me with an accompanying story, claiming I was one of a number of people being targeted by cranks, because of my criticisms of Rangers. That particular day I had other family concerns on my mind, and I more or less ignored the Record story. But the next day I received a phone call.

“Graham, this is Detective Chief Superintendent [xxxxxxx] from the counter-terrorism unit at Strathclyde Police…”

I was incredulous. “You’re kidding me, right?” I said. “You are kidding me on, surely?”

“No, I’m not,” he said. “And we think we need to come and see you at home pretty soon.”

I duly spent two hours listening to police security specialists explaining to me that they had information about threats being made against me, and that these threats were linked to my writing and broadcasting about Rangers. And so it has gone on, the threat of intimidation rising and falling in line with my writing about this football club.

The context, I believe, is this. Rangers FC have had supporter issues to deal with over the years. Many of these issues have seen great improvement in fans’ behaviour. But among the Rangers hard core there is resentment. Their faux Protestant culture around Rangers is something many Ibrox fans want to bin but the “traditionalists” want to preserve.

It often seems to me that a modern, liberal Scotland has abandoned this section of the Rangers support; left them behind, and even actually mocked them for their out-dated beliefs. Whatever the context, in my own experience, Channel 4 got it right. You sometimes mix with Rangers at your peril.”

 

It’s important to stress that Mr Spiers was a Rangers fan. As you can see from his article he has covered games at home and abroad. He has incurred the wrath of Rangers supporters for not accepting that Charles Green’s purchase of a basket of assets was a continuation of Rangers. James Traynor also publicly expressed this view, but later recanted it when employed to be Green’s Press Officer. Mangetout Traynor’s hypocrisy is the stuff of legend.

Mr Spiers has also campaigned against the singing of the UEFA proscribed song at Ibrox. The SPFL and the SFA have gone out of their way to avoid this issue. Both governance bodies have feigned temporary deafness when attending these games, and the delegates’ reports that allude to this issue are evidently mislaid or trashed with the junk mail. The Offensive Behaviour (Scotland) Act empowers Police Scotland to arrest those who engage in this proscribed anthem, but as Stewart Regan has stated, you cannot arrest 50,000 individuals. The introduction of facial recognition cameras is a red herring. This will be used to arrest those who have skipped bail or under warrant of arrest, but not to address this issue. This anthem will continue until such time as UEFA intervene, as they inevitably will.

This intimidation of journalists must be brought to an end. The attitude that those who criticize Rangers or their support are ‘haters’ is frankly ludicrous. Mr Spiers is correct in his assertion that a modern, liberal Scotland has abandoned this section of the Rangers support. However this section has not abandoned Rangers and will continue to be an affront to Rangers at home and abroad. The current board are culpable for elevating some of the recidivist underclass to positions of prominence at the club. This is something Mr Spiers has yet to touch on. He may well think twice about doing so.

The Kicker: Greater freedom but bloggers must still beware

I have been castigated for introducing my politics to this site. Readers should note that I do not allow politics to undermine my objectivity. I have no problem in reproducing an article in today’s The National. The following text has not been edited:

“THIS column from the outset has sought to solicit the views of Scottish football fans about the state of the game. Too often nowadays those views are expressed via befuddled internet websites, some of which are notorious for vitriol, bigotry, sectarianism and downright hatred.

An exception has been the Scottish Football Monitor (SFM), while the johnjames WordPress blog has been interesting, to say the least – probably the best single-issue sporting blog since the Rangers Tax Case was produced by a well-connected anonymous author, though that blogger saw the “omen”, so to speak, and discontinued operations before the sequel…

Both these current sites and many others enjoy the luxury of having the time to look into things which their operators find interesting. Believe me, a lot of sport writers found them interesting long before the bloggers got to them, but either they don’t have the time to chase up these items, or have lawyers standing over them saying “No you can’t write that”.

Bloggers have a freedom that the sporting media just does not enjoy – ask Chris McLaughlin of the BBC, disgracefully banned from Ibrox, about press freedom.

Yet the best of the bloggers have a legitimate point of view, as do all those fans’ websites and blogs which keep matters to football and kick out any charlatans and trolls.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that the latest blog on SFM followed up on the johnjame site, is a lulu. It appears that SFM blogger John Clark got an interview with two very senior SFA figures. The meeting was entirely about the status of Rangers, and the issue boils down to whether the club is actually a new entity called Sevco founded by Charles Green or the club which was formed in 1872.

For legal reasons not unconnected with a forthcoming trial, some of the matters reported on his blog by John Clark cannot be published in a newspaper – the contempt of court laws are pretty strict, and you can take it The National’s lawyer has checked this column.

The substantive point in the blog can be printed: “I (Clark) further made the point that many sports administrative bodies had come under the spotlight in current times and people were naturally concerned that the governance of football should be above suspicion: and that substantial numbers feel that the Football Authorities have been at fault, in permitting a new club to claim to be an old club and pretend to the honours and titles etc etc.”

The SFA two’s reply can be summarised as follows: they wouldn’t discuss the matter, and felt “the future would show whether Scottish football supporters were really concerned about the old club/new club debate, if huge numbers turned their backs on the game,” in Clark’s words.

Clark’s views are shared by many fans, even some Rangers fans. If his account is accurate, there must surely be some club in membership of the SFA who will take up this matter, if only for the attitude its representatives displayed.

If his account is wrong, then the SFA have to take the matter up with SFM. We await the outcome with interest.”