I still own the Belfast Giants, insists man named as sex offender on US website
The controversial businessman listed on a US sex offenders register has insisted that he still owns the Belfast Giants.
In an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, Christopher Knight (39) claimed he told officials linked to the ice hockey team four months ago about what he claimed was his "inappropriate" listing on a Florida sex register.
"I still own the Giants," he insisted.
He is now threatening legal action over moves to take control of the team from him.
Knight has denied all the sex accusations made against him in the US.
The row follows revelations that his name appears on a Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.
It is stated on the website that Christopher Knight was charged in 2003 with "lewd or lascivious battery".
The allegation is that he engaged in sexual activity with a person aged between 12 and 15 and he remains on the sex offenders register.
Mr Knight said he had never been convicted of the offences and he pointed to a section on the sex offenders page which said the adjudication against was "withheld".
"That is not a conviction," he said. "I was put on the list inappropriately and we are in the process of getting that removed."
He claimed the allegations were pursued by the father of a girl in Florida – a man who initially tried to bring a civil case against him.
"At the time of the allegations I actually had a partial paralysis of my body due to a motorbike accident so I wouldn't even have been physically capable of this at the time," he said.
Mr Knight has claimed he didn't make any secret about the US sex register when he bought the controlling shares from the Belfast Giants' former owner Jim Gillespie in October, in a deal said to be worth £145,000.
The US businessman repeatedly said ice hockey officials in Belfast were told about him being on the sex offenders register.
He said he had also provided them with the paperwork about the register at a meeting in the executive lounge of the Hilton Hotel in Belfast, a meeting at which his partner was also present.
"I informed them about the register because I never wanted to find myself in this situation. I was told they supported me," said Mr Knight, who added that the sex accusations were a reason why his takeover of the Giants wasn't made public at the time.
"I was told they didn't want any negative publicity," he said.
The Odyssey Trust – which operates the venue where the UK Elite Ice Hockey league champions play their home games before thousands of fans – said "major issues" with Mr Knight came to their attention on February 1. Todd Kelman, acting general manager of the ice hockey team on behalf of the Odyssey Trust, strongly denied Mr Knight's claims.
He told the Belfast Telegraph: "No one from the (Belfast) Giants or the former owner Jim Gillespie knew. To even suggest that we had known anything about this is absolutely ludicrous and absurd. I became aware about this three weeks ago."
The Odyssey Trust instigated a complex series of legal moves in a bid to force the new owner to sell the team, but the deadline passed last Friday.
That resulted in the players and staff walking away from their contracts with Mr Knight. The team played two games without fees and on Monday the players signed the new contracts to be paid for by the Odyssey Trust. Mr Knight insisted that he still owned the Giants, the name, the logo and the equipment the team played with last Friday and Saturday including the hockey sticks and the jerseys.
He said his lawyers are studying the situation surrounding the players' contracts, which he claimed prevented them from turning out for any other teams.
He said he was taking legal action against a "number of parties" and he believed the players had been manipulated by them.
"I don't think the players were to blame," he said.
However, Todd Kelman told the Belfast Telegraph: "Mr Knight is the owner of Belfast Giants 2008 Limited, a company that has had (the) lease terminated by the Odyssey Trust to play in their arena on February 6.
"Now he's (Christopher Knight) got a company with no players, no arena to play in and no staff."
Mr Kelman said that Belfast Giants' future is "secure" with the backing of the Odyssey Trust.
I thought listing was common knowledge, says peer
By Ivan Little and Anna Maguire
Lord John Laird told the Belfast Telegraph that he thought people were aware the American businessman was named on a US sex offenders register.
"I'm very surprised that this has come out now," Mr Laird said.
"I thought people knew. I thought this was something that was more widely known among people here."
The Ulster peer accompanied Christopher Knight on his first trip to Northern Ireland more than a year ago, introducing him to business contacts here.
"He had never, ever considered (investing in) Northern Ireland and I just wanted to show him around, and through that he would have met quite a few businessmen," Lord Laird said.
It is believed Christopher Knight, who built a successful career in telecommunications, travelled here again six months later.
In October, the 39-year-old bought the controlling shares from Belfast Giant's former owner Jim Gillespie in a deal said to be worth £145,000.
However, players and staff at Belfast Giants have walked away to form a new club without him, after it emerged that Knight's name appears on a Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.
The website states that Christopher Knight – whose address is listed as West Sussex in England – was charged in 2003 with "lewd or lascivious battery".
The offences are alleged to have happened in Broward, the second most populated county in the southern sunshine state of Florida. Knight has denied all the sex accusations made against him in America.
A business associate told the Belfast Telegraph that Knight made no secret about the US sex register.
"It was just something that happened and he was not guilty.
"I got the impression that he was never found guilty, or something to that effect."
Referring to the 2003 charge of "lewd or lascivious battery", Knight's business associate added: "You would have presumed it was something of [in] that area.
"I would have got [heard] that from him."
Christopher Knight has told the Belfast Telegraph that what was being presented in the media about him "was nowhere near accurate – not even close to being accurate".
"I gave you my word that what was presented to the Press is complete and total lies. It's misrepresentation."
He said he is consulting his legal advisers – with a number of investigations, including ones by what he called "law enforcement agencies", now under way at his request.
Last night Todd Kelman, acting general manager of the ice hockey team on behalf of the Odyssey Trust, denied Knight's claim that he told Giants officials about the sex offenders register four months earlier.
Mr Kelman said: "Absolutely not did anyone in the Belfast Giants know that he [Christopher Knight] was on the sex offenders list in the US.
"If we had, we would have never had Mr Knight involved with Belfast Giants."