I never wanted to hurt Leeds Utd, says Ken Bates rival Melvyn Levi

BUSINESSMAN Melvyn Levi today assured Leeds United fans his winning libel action against chairman Ken Bates was not directed towards the club.

Mr Levi, 65, who is a former director of Leeds United, said he was a life-long supporter and only wanted the best for the club.

Yesterday, the High Court ordered Mr Bates to pay 50,000 libel damages to Mr Levi over allegations that he was a "shyster" who tried to blackmail the club over money.

The ruling means Mr Bates, 78, who had hotly contested the action, now faces a costs bill believed to be around 1.5 million.

Today, at a news conference in Leeds, Mr Levi said: "I have been and will remain a lifelong Leeds United supporter. I will continue to follow the club's progress with interest and enthusiasm.

"I wish the club the very best for the future and hope next year will be a promotion season."

He said: "The action had nothing to do with Leeds United, to whom I wish only success."

Mr Levi added: "The whole episode has been hugely upsetting to me."

The High Court heard how the libel action arose out of events surrounding the acquisition of Leeds United Football Club by a consortium headed by Mr Bates in 2005.

Mr Levi was one of the members of a consortium - the Yorkshire Consortium - which bought the club about 10 months before Mr Bates's purchase.

The entrepreneur sued over "grave and offensive" libels in three articles written by Mr Bates in the Leeds United programme in 2006 and 2007 and a letter written to club members in August 2007.

Part of his case was that, in an article published in a programme in March 2007 entitled The Enemy Within, he was accused of blackmail, of being dishonourable and of making unscrupulous attempts to obtain money which had deterred investors in Leeds United.

In his ruling the judge, Sir Charles Gray, said the "sting" of one of the publications lay in the reference to Mr Levi as a "shyster".

"That term would in my judgment have been understood to mean that Mr Levi is someone who engages in sharp, disreputable and dishonest practices," said Sir Charles.

The judge described the allegation of blackmail as "particularly serious".

He said the libels were repeated "on several occasions over a period of 10 months" and the "publishees, principally supporters of the club, were persons whose esteem Mr Levi valued".

Mr Bates had denied libel, but the judge ruled that he had failed in his defences of justification and fair comment.

Sir Charles said the 50,000 damages he awarded was in respect of the three match programmes "where the defences failed".

Mr Levi's claim in relation to the letter failed as the judge ruled that it was covered by qualified privilege.