‘Stalinist’ Bates branded unreliable

Melvyn Levi
Melvyn Levi
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Leeds United chairman Ken Bates has been described as an “unreliable” man and witness who takes a “Stalinist approach” to what he writes in the club’s matchday programme.

The claims were made yesterday as the latest high-profile courtroom battle between Mr Bates and former club director Melvyn Levi entered its final stages.

Mr Levi and his wife Carole have told Leeds County Court they became ill after Mr Bates “ruined their lives” by writing disparaging articles about them.

They 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, the hearing was told.

The couple seek damages 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. The Leeds chairman has dismissed their allegations as “rubbish”.

In his closing speech, the Levis’ barrister Simon Myerson QC told Judge Mark Gosnell that Mr Bates had lied from the witness box.

“As a witness he is unreliable and as a man he is also unreliable,” Mr Myerson told the court.

“That is an important point because that links into the point as to whether there should be an injunction.”

Mr Levi was awarded £50,000 in damages in 2009 after a High Court judge ruled he had been libelled by Mr Bates in the programme.

The court has heard that Mr Bates went on to write further articles about Mr Levi and his wife, particularly in relation to separate legal action between the two men.

Yorkshire Radio broadcast announcements during or before two Leeds matches, asking anyone who knew Mr Levi’s whereabouts to contact the club, the hearing was told.

Mr Myerson said Mr Bates’s programme notes only included information the chairman wanted the club’s fans to hear. “It is a Stalinist approach,” he added.

Mr Myerson turned to how Mr Bates owned 76 per cent of Leeds United, a share so large “there isn’t a resolution you can’t pass on your own.”

He said: “Is it (Leeds) a separate company, with separate governance and separate procedures, that is able to take a stance different to that of Mr Bates?

“In our submission, the evidence is no, it isn’t.”

The barrister later added: “A rich man has bought a football club and just does what he likes.”

Mr Myerson said the harm done to Mrs Levi had been “collateral damage” in Mr Bates’s “campaign” against Mr Levi. He added that Mrs Levi had said “she had cancer twice but this was worse”.

“When she had cancer Melvyn, her husband, was there to support her,” Mr Myerson said, “but the effect of this is that both of them are rendered despairing”.

Mr Levi had been the target of “deliberate hurt” from Mr Bates, the court was told.

“If they were boys in the playground, no doubt Mr Bates would be dishing out the Chinese burns behind the bike sheds,” Mr Myerson said.

Earlier, Mr Bates’s barrister, Jacob Dean, told the court that Mr Levi had himself accepted that he was “not a shrinking violet” and football club owners needed “thick skins”.

Mr Dean said: “Mr Levi is a public figure. He chose to enter the world of sport by taking a substantial stake in a football club.

“He knew about the controversy that football club owners can attract if things do not go well.”

The dispute began after Mr Bates acquired the club from the Yorkshire Consortium, of which Mr Levi was a member, in 2005.

Judge Gosnell reserved judgment. He is expected to make a ruling in a few weeks.

Arguments about Mr Bates’ and the Levis’ legal costs will be heard at a future hearing.