The Leeds owner and chairman continues to criticise supporters, despite being found guilty of harassing a former director
Leeds United supporters parched by lack of top-flight football had their welcome draught of it with Tuesday's 2-1 Capital One Cup victory over Everton in the Elland Road rain, a taste of where the fans believe their club should be. The game was watched by David Haigh, a representative of the Bahrain-based Gulf Finance House (GFH), which has confirmed it is negotiating to "lead and arrange" a takeover of Leeds, having been in talks with the club's owner, Ken Bates, since as long ago as June.
In an 11-minute address on Leeds's in-house television channel before Saturday's 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest, which lifted Leeds to 12th in the Championship, Bates spent almost as long criticising the Leeds United Supporters Trust (Lust) as he did discussing the club's destiny. He said of the possible investment in Leeds, which is thought to be proposed by private individuals represented by GFH, that there remain "technical points" to resolve, although Bates said there is a confidentiality agreement in place and so he did not explain what the outstanding issues are.
If Bates, who lives in Monaco as a UK tax exile, does sell up and leave football completely, he will avoid a possible Football Association charge of bringing the game into disrepute. The governing body decided to charge Bates, and Leeds United, at the end of August, but is now holding that charge in abeyance.
The charge follows the finding in Leeds county court in June that Bates, and the club itself, committed harassment of Melvyn Levi, a former Leeds director, by publishing personal attacks on him in Bates's chairman's notes in the club's match programme. Leeds's in-house Yorkshire Radio station was also found to have harassed Levi by broadcasting at least six times a public appeal for Levi's whereabouts, because Bates wanted to sue him.
Harassment, his honour Judge Gosnell stated, involves "conduct calculated to cause alarm or distress … objectively judged to be oppressive and unacceptable" and involves "torment of the victim, of an order which would sustain criminal liability". Bates and Leeds were found to have perpetrated such conduct via the matchday programme, which fans pay £4 to buy, and the radio station supported financially by the club.
Levi, 68, told the court this public harassment had a deeply upsetting impact on him and his 69-year-old wife, Carole. Judge Gosnell found the couple had been "made ill" and Levi's "life had been very significantly affected for the worse".
Levi's barrister, Simon Myerson QC, had asked Bates whether he considered the effect his articles would have on the couple. Bates replied that Carole Levi "doesn't come into my calculations at all", and Levi was "big enough to look after himself".
Judge Gosnell said of Bates's attitude: "I felt his lack of concern, particularly as he must have read the medical evidence on both claimants, was chilling."
Bates was found to have harassed Melvyn Levi but not Carole because she suffered only one act of harassment, not a "course of conduct". She is appealing. The judge ruled that what was published in Leeds United's official output was "oppressive and unacceptable … serious enough to sustain criminal liability in the event of breach".
The finding of harassment followed a 2009 high court decision by Sir Charles Gray that Bates had libelled Levi, also in his chairman's articles published prominently in the match programme. Levi's lawyer, Nick Collins of Ford and Warren, then wrote to the FA, informing it of the courts' decisions.
On 29 August, an official from the FA's football governance and regulation division wrote to Collins, saying the FA intended to charge Bates: "I am confident that I will be in a position to confirm the charge with you by telephone tomorrow," she wrote.
The following day, the FA official asked Collins not to release the information "regarding the charge" because the FA was discussing "publication" with its own communications department and Leeds themselves. "It is hoped that this will be resolved today," she wrote.
Collins heard nothing further until last week, when he was told that the charge is not going ahead now, but will be held in abeyance until the conclusion of a further court case Bates is bringing against Levi. Collins is severely critical of that FA decision: "Ken Bates has been found by a judge to have committed harassment, serious enough to sustain criminal liability," he said. "Any other court actions – which Melvyn Levi will be defending absolutely – are irrelevant. The FA has a duty to protect football and its reputation, and they are declining to act."
Levi, who says his and Carole's health and happiness have suffered as a result of the harassment, said: "The FA is doing nothing about this behaviour, which I find disgusting. It leaves Ken Bates free to attack other people."
In his LUFCTV address on Saturday, Bates said of Lust, a mutual trust of 8,200 members formed according to the legal regulations of Supporters Direct, the organisation funded by the Premier League: "They are a waste of space, a pain in the arse and achieving nothing." He described their contribution as "agitation stirred up by those idiots", and trust members as an "ignorant, illiterate minority".
Lust has analysed Leeds's finances since the club came out of administration in 2007, and argued there has been too much emphasis on building projects rather than team investment. Leeds have borrowed £5m against two years' season ticket money (it now costs £582 for a season ticket on the Kop) to build banqueting and other facilities in the east stand.
During the August transfer window, Neil Warnock had painfully little money to spend on players, while Leeds sold the striker Robert Snodgrass to Norwich City for £3m. In a "vision statement" published last year Lust called for the club to engage more positively with fans, who have remained steadfastly loyal throughout these bleak years.
Bates's programme notes for Tuesday's Everton match included a personal attack on Gary Cooper, the Lust chairman, stating he was once a member of a "fringe organisation", and that Lust has a poor relationship with Leeds United's Disabled Organisation (Ludo). Cooper rejected both completely, and said nobody from the club had contacted him to check these allegations before they were published. Ludo's chair, Stuart Ramm, confirmed there was "no truth" in the allegation relating to Ludo. Cooper said he now intends to complain to the FA.
The FA has declined to comment, except to confirm that the charge of bringing the game into disrepute against Bates and Leeds has been held in abeyance until all legal cases with Levi are concluded. Leeds United refused to comment, including about the takeover talks, in which Bates said there remain "a few things" he wants to resolve with the investors' chairman.
In his evidence during the harassment trial, Bates said he writes his chairman's articles with the help of his wife in Monaco, before sending them to be published in the programme. Such is life at Leeds United, one of England's great football clubs, in 2012.