Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Liverpool's sorry saga goes back across the Atlantic

The focus of Liverpool Football Club and the issue of its takeover has been centered on the High Court but it is in a Dallas court that the saga is expected to finally come to an end

Liverpool's drawn-out ownership issues could finally be resolved several thousand miles away today when a court in Texas reconvenes.

case returns to texas court Put your shirt on it? The focus of Liverpool Football Club and the issue of its takeover has been centered on the High Court but it is in a Dallas court that the saga is expected to finally come to an end

The club moved to the brink of being taken over by New England Sports Ventures (NESV) when a High Court judge in London dismissed an United States-based injunction preventing the sale of the club.

However, lawyers for co-owner Tom Hicks immediately went back to the 160th District Court in Dallas for another hearing, with Judge Jim Jordan, only for that to be adjourned without resolution.

The legal team will go back at 7am local time (1pm BST) — just three hours before the deadline set by the High Court for the American's restraining order to be removed — when it is expected a ruling will be made.

Liverpool remain hopeful the £300million sale to NESV, whose head is Boston Red Sox baseball franchise owner John W Henry, will go through, with both chairman Martin Broughton and managing director Christian Purslow speaking positively last night.

“We're nearly there. We've still got to take away the restraining order,” said Broughton, who added that he hoped to have a deal in place for Henry to attend Sunday's Merseyside derby at Goodison Park as club owner.

“Mr Henry is very committed. My guess is we'll have it done and he'll be there — but we've got to get rid of this order first.”

Purslow was also optimistic the restraining order would be lifted.

“I hope so, I hope so. Good day in court today,” he said.

For the second time in just over 24 hours, the club's independent directors — Broughton, Purslow and commercial director Ian Ayre — were yesterday given the go-ahead by Mr Justice Floyd to complete their agreement with NESV.

On Wednesday night a hastily-convened board meeting resolved to go through with the sale, only for Hicks and fellow co-owner George Gillett to inform the England-based directors they had attained a temporary restraining order preventing it and were also suing them for £1billion.

That prompted Royal Bank of Scotland, the club's major creditors who are due to be repaid £240million today, to return to the High Court for a ruling on jurisdiction and they were given the answer they required.

Mr Justice Floyd, in granting anti-suit injunctions in a bid to nullify decisions taken in the court in Dallas, was scathing in his remarks about the American co-owners' conduct which he called “unconscionable”.

The judge said his mandatory orders were not aimed at the Texas court but Hicks and Gillett to stop them taking further action there.

David Chivers QC, who told the judge that his clients NESV already considered themselves the new owners, asked the judge for a speedy serving of his orders on Hicks and Gillett so the deal with NESV can be completed and money transferred from the US.

He said if the deal was not completed today, Hicks and Gillett had succeeded in stopping the sale of Liverpool before repayment of the debt to RBS became due.

Chivers described Hicks and Gillett as “the owners from beyond the grave who are seeking to exercise with their dead hand a continuing grip on this company. That is simply not acceptable.”

Mr Justice Floyd gave Hicks and Gillett until 4pm today to comply with his orders, making his decision yesterday because there “is a degree of urgency to allow the club's board to control its own affairs”.

Earlier Liverpool's QC Lord Grabiner had said the actions brought in Dallas were “abusive, vexatious and oppressive”. He said that claims made to the Texas court suggesting a conspiracy involving board members and RBS were a “grotesque parody of the truth”.

Richard Snowden QC, for RBS, said there were no legal representatives for Hicks and Gillett in court even though they had been informed of the latest move.

“The proceedings in Texas are plainly inappropriate,” Snowden told the court.

“This dispute involves an English football club and three English companies and has no connection with Texas other than that Hicks and Gillett may reside there.

“It is a plain attempt to frustrate and impede the proceedings.”

He said the American owners had made “scurrilous allegations” against RBS in the Texas court which had no basis in fact.

Mr Snowden said granting anti-suit injunctions always ran the risk of an affront to a foreign court.

“But it is apparent the US judge himself was aware that what he was being asked to do might cause some ruffling of feathers in this |jurisdiction.”

Mr Snowden told the judge Hicks and Gillett were applying in Texas for an order that Wednesday's Liverpool board meeting was “a contempt of the Texas court”.

Prior to that adjournment in Dallas, Liverpool issued a statement on behalf of Broughton, Purslow and Ayre.

“The independent directors of Liverpool Football Club are delighted with the verdict of Mr Justice Floyd in the High Court which now requires Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett to withdraw their Texas restraining order by 4pm tomorrow,” the statement said.

“We are glad to have taken another important step towards completing the sale process.”

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