THE chief executive of Leeds United has told a court that the club is spending a “fortune” on legal fees in its long-running dispute with a former director.
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But Shaun Harvey denied that chairman Ken Bates was being “indulged in his vendettas” against former director Melvyn Levi.
Mr Levi, who successfully sued Mr Bates for libel damages in 2009, has told Leeds County Court that he and his wife Carole became ill after the chairman “ruined their lives” by making disparaging remarks about them in the club’s matchday programme.
The couple are seeking damages for harassment from Mr Bates, Leeds United and Yorkshire Radio, a radio station which broadcasts live commentary of the club’s matches.
They have also applied for an injunction against Mr Bates to prevent further harassment.
Giving evidence today, Mr Harvey accepted that the programme was his responsibility as the club’s chief executive.
He said the club had no independent directors and he agreed that there was “no independent scrutiny” of the programme.
Mr Harvey said: “There is no doubt that Mr Bates writes things in the programme notes that I as an individual wouldn’t do.
“It’s a different approach and a different style.”
Simon Myerson QC, for the Levis, asked Mr Harvey: “The truth is all this litigation isn’t worth the candle, is it?
“You, as chief executive, have committed the club to spending a fortune on legal fees?”
Mr Harvey replied: “We are spending a fortune on legal fees, yes.”
The court heard that separate legal proceedings brought by the club against Levi in Jersey had been stayed, with Leeds ordered to pay costs.
Mr Myerson asked: “Is anybody exercising control or is it that an elderly man is being indulged in his vendettas?
Mr Harvey replied: “We are advised professionally by solicitors in both Jersey and England.”
The hearing has been told that the Levis were forced to carry personal alarms and bolster security at their Leeds home after the programme published their address and invited supporters to look up their telephone number.
Mr Levi was awarded £50,000 in damages in 2009 after a High Court judge ruled that he had been libelled by Mr Bates in articles published in the programme.
The Leeds chairman had alleged Mr Levi was a “shyster” who tried to blackmail the club over money.
In a witness statement handed to the court, Mr Levi said Mr Bates’s harassment began in 2006 and stopped in July 2009 following the libel case.
But he said it resumed on Boxing Day in 2010, when Yorkshire Radio broadcast an announcement during Leeds United’s home match against Leicester City, asking anyone who knew his whereabouts to contact the club.
Mr Levi said he understood a similar announcement was made during or before the club’s match against Middlesbrough at Elland Road on New Year’s Day in 2011.
Listeners who heard the announcement “assumed I was some sort of fugitive”, Mr Levi added.
The court heard that Mr Bates had been seeking to serve Mr Levi with papers about the Jersey proceedings.
A man had visited the couple’s home shortly before Christmas to present the papers, but Mr Levi was not in.
The hearing was told Mr Bates used his matchday notes for the Middlesbrough game to speculate about why Mr Levi was not there and to imply the couple had spent Christmas apart.
Mr Levi said: “A number of people have since asked me if we are having marital problems and that is also very upsetting.”
He later added: “It is not an exaggeration that since Mr Bates recommenced his acts of harassment against us, it has completely ruined our lives.”
Giving evidence, Mrs Levi told the court: “Mr Bates has stolen six and a half years of our lives – six and a half precious years.
“We are well into our sixties now. We should be having a good time, not sitting in court, boring everybody to pieces. We are very small fry. I would have thought that he would have taken on somebody on a much larger scale than us.”
She went on: “Really, he should be locked up. If this is all he can do with his life, he should be locked up. It’s terrible.”
Mr Bates is defending the action on grounds of reasonableness and freedom of expression.
The dispute began after Mr Bates’s acquired the club from the Yorkshire Consortium, of which Mr Levi was a member, in 2005.
Mr Bates dismissed as “rubbish” suggestions that he used the club’s matchday programme to wage a “personal vendetta”.
Asked by Mr Myerson whether he should have thought more carefully about what he wrote, Mr Bates replied: “You are being wise after the event, which of course is your privilege.
“In the real world, which I doubt you have ever worked in, things work very differently.”
Mr Myerson said: “In the real world, people can buy football clubs, have their own columns and write whatever they like about people.”
Mr Bates replied: “You are being pathetic now.”
Mr Bates was asked about an article published in the programme, in which he described Mr Levi’s son Oliver as a “cheeky bugger”.
He said that, only a month after the libel proceedings had finished, Oliver had been seen in the Leeds United boardroom for the club’s home match against Watford.
Mr Bates said that, after it emerged that he had been given the ticket by a former chairman of Watford, Leeds chief executive Shaun Harvey ordered him to leave.
The chairman said: “Mr Levi’s son, while welcome at Elland Road, is not welcome at the innermost sanctum.
“If he had any brains at all he must have known that, having regard to the relationship between Mr Levi and myself.”
Mr Bates said the episode was a “perfect example” of how the Levi family had “harassed” the club.
Asked whether he really believed this counted as harassment, the chairman sought to clarify his remarks.
“I can come come up with a better word than harassment,” he said. “It was an act of provocation.”
The court heard that Mr Bates alluded to Mr Levi’s wife Carole in the programme, and remarked on the fact that she was previously married to Mr Levi’s business partner, Robert Weston.
Mr Levi and Mr Weston are being sued by Leeds United in a separate action over allegations that the club is owed more than £190,000 following the termination of a contract in 2005.
Asked why he had brought Mrs Levi into the dispute, Mr Bates replied: “I think it was en passant at the time.”
He said it was “rubbish” to suggest that he had “deliberately dragged” the Levis’ marriage into the match programme.
Mr Myerson put it to Mr Bates: “Do you accept that simply stopping writing about them would prevent them being upset?”
“I don’t think so,” Mr Bates replied.
Mr Bates said the club had not published anyone else’s address in the programme because “there hasn’t been a dispute with anybody else”.
Mr Myerson asked him: “Do I understand from that, that if there was a dispute you would think it was perfectly acceptable to print an address?”
Mr Bates replied: “You are not entitled to draw that conclusion. It would depend on the circumstances.
“During this particular action there have been an awful lot of questions asked of me, asking what was happening, and I said ‘It’s beyond me, ask Mr Levi’.”
Mr Myerson asked: “What circumstances justify the publication of somebody’s private address in a football programme?”
“I’ve just answered your question,” Mr Bates replied. “It might not be the answer you wanted.”
Mr Myerson continued: “Those questions from fans were addressed to you? In what form?”
Mr Bates said: “Yes. Letters, telephone calls, emails - and no, I haven’t got them to produce.”
The case continues.