The Supporters’ Trust notes with interest, surprise and anger the press release from IPS Law, the legal representative of at least some of the former shareholders of Swansea City Football Club, and the subsequent article in the Mail Online, both of which are factually incorrect and wrongly blame the Trust for lack of progress towards a mediated settlement in relation to the sale of our football club in 2016. We note with surprise that the Mail Online did not seek any comment from the Trust before publishing its article. Legal advice is being taken.
As members will be aware from several previous Trust statements (some still publicly available on the Trust website), the Trust first proposed mediation as long ago as 18th May 2018 in its Claim Letter sent to the Club’s American owners and Huw Jenkins and other selling shareholders. This was sent in order to comply with the High Court’s Practice Direction, which sets out what parties in dispute should do prior to issuing court proceedings. It lays down a maximum timeline of three months within which the defendant parties should provide a full written response to the claim. Whilst the owners eventually provided a belated response, nine months later the Trust was still waiting for one from the Huw Jenkins and others represented by IPS Law. Finally, last Friday Chris Farnell of IPS Law informed our legal representatives that he had been instructed not to provide a detailed response to the claim letter, demonstrating that his clients had no intention of complying with the Practice Direction – and opening themselves to costs sanctions from the court if or when proceedings have to be issued against them.
IPS Law claims that their clients are willing to mediate, but that is at odds with their refusal to address the legal issues set out in the claim letter. Mediation cannot sensibly take place without that response/defence and the Trust cannot commit to wasting the funds of our members whilst the selling shareholders concerned refuse to properly engage in the pre-action process.
The Trust must also respond to the patently untrue accusation that we have twice backed out of a mediation. As our members will be aware, the first proposed mediation towards the end of last year was cancelled due to the late decision of Jason Levien not to attend. It should also be noted that it became clear in the last week that neither of the managing partners of the majority shareholders, Steve Kaplan or Jason Levien, were planning to attend the proposed February mediation dates either, in spite of the Trust having made it clear that the attendance of one of them was vital if the Trust was to commit to spending thousands of pounds on a mediation. Although alternative attendees were suggested, a mediation is much less likely to be productive while the managing partners of the club’s owners are not prepared to fully engage.
It was again the Trust which took the initiative and proposed mediation this year, by letter from its lawyers on 16 January. This specified that Huw Jenkins and the other selling shareholders represented by IPS Law should deliver their response/defence letter by 31 January. As noted already, last Friday, though IPS Law, they refused to do so and in so doing rejected the Trust’s proposal for a mediation. That, coupled with the refusal of Messrs Levien and Kaplan to attend, is the reason that a mediation has not gone ahead. The published allegation that the Trust unilaterally withdrew at the last minute is simply untrue.
The Trust notes that while we remain in dispute with the club’s majority shareholders on various issues, they have at least shown some level of willingness to engage with the Trust. It is disappointing and notable that the selling shareholders concerned, self-proclaimed fans and former custodians of the club, have shown significantly less willingness to engage in the pre-action process.
We also note that the first move of those selling shareholders after the breakdown in discussions was to get their legal representative to rush out and speak to the press, which hardly seems in the best interests of the Football Club from which Huw Jenkins has recently resigned as chairman. It is astonishing that they accuse the Trust of trying to damage the club when we look at the current league position in comparison to 2016.
Whilst the Trust remains willing to engage in mediation, that is entirely dependent on all other parties taking the process seriously. We note the willingness of the selling shareholders concerned, through their legal representatives, to play this out in the court of public opinion rather than through the legal process. We can only conclude that this, along with their reluctance to even put forward a defence to our claim as is required by the courts’ practice direction, can only be due to the fact they know they have no defence. On the issue of costs consequences to the Trust or the impact on our legal position, our legal advisors are fully confident that the record will show it is the Trust that has made every effort to ensure that the mediation process is followed and succeeds, and we have often gone above and beyond to give this process a chance of success.
In terms of next steps, our members will know the Trust is planning a consultation with members next month where our membership would have the chance to vote on the various options available to the Trust. One of these options would be whether to proceed with legal action in relation to the 2016 sale of our football club.
The Trust has extended the offer to the legal representatives of the majority owners to continue discussions between the two parties with a view to seeking a settlement, which we would then present to our members as an option during the consultation. We hope this offer is taken up. In the meantime, the Trust’s legal team will be considering our options regarding pursuing claims against IPS Law’s clients separately.
Swansea City Supporters Trust
13th February 2019