A fair Kop?

The press pack at the Royal Courts of Justice was salivating at the court doors yesterday morning with not one but two high-profile showdowns on the lists.

Anfield, The Kop End.
Anfield, The Kop End.

Those waiting outside Court 14, where pop star Peter Andre was pursuing a libel claim against his ex-wife Katie Price, was rather subdued in comparison with those waiting just down the hall outside Court 16. Interest in the internecine battle between the couple had clearly waned the future of Liverpool Football Club was being fought over a few doors away.

The press pack gathered early. Some had even got there before the fans and fretted that the Liverpool shirts would fail to make it in time for the prerequisite photo shoot on the steps of the RCJ. They needn’t have worried; they were there en masse and made their feelings very clear.

There was plenty of action in the RCJ, with the court due to hear seven applications in one morning; at one point there more than 65 solicitors and barristers in one room, waiting to hear when their case would be heard. The Liverpool FC case, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) v Hicks and others, was third in line.

Erskine Chambers’ Richard Snowden QC, instructed by Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer partner Patrick Swain for RBS, was first up. 

Snowden told the presiding judge Mr Justice Floyd that the club’s owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett had deliberately and knowingly breached the terms of a £237m loan extension provided by the bank by attempting to block a £300m takeover of the club by Boston Red Sox owners New England Sport Ventures (NESV).

Snowden accused the pair of showing “breathtaking arrogance” in trying to break up the club’s board by sacking managing director Christian Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre, and replacing them with his son Mack Hicks and assistant Lori Kay.

The RBS barrister called for the court to grant mandatory injunctive relief to reconstitute the original board and allow the sale to go through.

Responding, Paul Girolami QC, having been instructed by Peters and Peters partners Jonathan Tickner and Keith Oliver to act for Hicks and Gillett, rejected suggestions that the owners had tried to scupper a sale to get a higher return.

They were not, he said, “trying to throw a spanner in the works” of the proposed sale. “What has happened is that the English directors have gone forward with the NESV bid without properly considering alternatives when those alternatives at least appear to give better prospects,” he added.

The application was supported in court by One Essex Court heavyweight Lord Grabiner QC, who had been instructed by Slaughter and May partner Efstathios Michael to represent the board. The dispute was supposedly between RBS and Hicks, but that did not stop Floyd J from asking Grabiner on his opinion on the matter. The silk suggested that even though there were other offers on the table Hicks and Gillett were still bound by their contract with RBS.

Upholding the argument and granting the injunction, Floyd J ruled that the owners had no right to veto the sale.

The reassembled board will now have until Friday (15 October) to push a sale to NESV through and repay its creditors.  That is by no means guaranteed, but having spent up to £500,000 on an embarrassing High Court showdown, Broughton and co will be determined to see it through.