Duncan Castles fighting back 28/10/12
A large number of Leeds United supporters have asked me to respond to the comments made by Ken Bates in his match-day address to LUTV on Saturday.
The email apology to GFH Capital deputy chief executive David Haigh which Bates referred to in the broadcast is genuine. Unfortunately, Bates failed to provide the proper context to the email.
The email was categorically not an apology for any of the extensive reporting I have done on GFH Capital and the company's long standing attempt to take over Leeds United. The email was an apology for retweeting an item a Leeds United supporter, David A Nye (@DANYLEEDS) sent me in response to an article published last Sunday reporting concerns amongst the Islamic finance industry over whether its proposed takeover was compatible with Sharia principles.
As soon as I was informed of the complaint by a colleague I deleted the retweet and offered to contact the complainant to apologise. I realised that what I initially considered an amusing comment on the implications of a successful GFH Capital takeover of Leeds, could potentially be perceived as offensive, and that I had made an error of judgement. I was, and remain, more than happy to apologise to anyone who was offended by the retweet.
It then transpired that Haigh was the complainant and that he threatened legal action if I did not apologise. Though I have over 44,000 followers on Twitter and an extensive readership in Islamic countries, Haigh's was the only complaint I received.
Having been informed that my emailed apology would bring an end to the matter, I was surprised that Haigh passed on that private email to the chairman of Leeds United, apparently without any explanation of its context.
Following Mr Bates' Saturday broadcast I have contacted Haigh by both email and telephone in an attempt to clarify why he passed on my email and allowed it to be broadcast without context. I am yet to receive an explanation.
In Ken Bates' address to LUTV, the Leeds United chairman stated that I had been “asking the most peculiar questions”.
As a football journalist I have placed a series of questions to GFH Capital. All of the questions were based on information provided to me by several sources privy to the dealings of GFH Capital, Leeds United and relevant to the the proposed takeover - a subject of significant public interest.
My questions were placed with David Haigh and/or his PR consultant Sam Bowen in attempt to check facts and to offer them a right to reply to various claims regarding GFH Capital's intentions for Leeds United and behaviour in attempting the takeover. It is a standard process required of a responsible journalist.
I first contacted Haigh via Twitter's direct message system after GFH Capital's involvement in a bid to take control Leeds United became public. I asked to speak to Haigh on an off- or on-record basis as he preferred. I received no reply to my messages.
I was only able to initiate a dialogue with Haigh when he publicly criticised my reporting on Twitter on September 23. Haigh stated that he was “Looking for a 'quote of the day'.. On Journos that make stuff up as they go along.” When a correspondent (@davidhen1) replied to his tweet with my name, Haigh responded “exactly”.
I again wrote to Haigh asking that he be specific about what I was supposed to have “made up”. Haigh declined to do so, but put me in touch with his PR consultant, promising that Bowen would help me with my reporting on the proposed takeover.
I then placed a series of written questions with Haigh and Bowen on GFH Capital's attempt to purchase Leeds United. On 29 September, Bowen provided me with answers to some queries and declined to comment on others.
In subsequent days, Haigh promised to reply to further questions and discuss other matters. Bowen also contacted me, promising a phone conversation with Haigh. On October 13, I postponed publishing an article because Bowen asked me to wait until the next day when Haigh would be free to talk. The promised phone call never came.
A list of public-interest questions placed with Haigh, Bowen and GFH Capital during this reporting process.
Questions placed by email on 6 October:
1) Is it correct that the 'exclusive agreement' GFHC referred to in its 27th September statement is the deal agreed this summer? IE, it is not a new agreement.
2) Is it correct that the same 'exclusive agreement' expires at the end of this year?
3) Is it correct that your company has been canvassing multiple investors to raise finance for the purchase of Leeds City Holdings?
Also, can you, or the company, say - on record - that none of the acquisition cost will be transferred onto Leeds United's books should you manage to complete?
Questions placed by email on 13 October: [Haigh had retweeted an item from Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum leading to speculation that the Dubai monarch was involved in GFH Capital's bid.]
1) Has GFH Capital or GFH offered Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum the opportunity to invest in Leeds United and had he agreed to invest?
2) Has GFH Capital or GFH now succeeded in its recent attempts to raise the funds to purchase Leeds United and additional money to fund player acquisition costs and improved contracts post-purchase?
3) How many Leeds United matches have you attended in your life?
4) How many professional football matches have you attended in your life?
5) Have you ever supported any other football team?
[Haigh had also used Twitter to respond to queries from Leeds supporters that he was not, as claimed, a fellow Leeds fan, but had been a supporter of Manchester United by tweeting that he was “thinking of getting an #lufc tattoo”.]
6) Why did you only begin following football-related sources, or commenting or referring to football-related matters on your Twitter account this year?
7) Is it correct that Sam Bowen spoke to Leeds United Supporters Trust on your behalf this week ahead of the Trust's Monday evening statement?
Questions placed on 27 October:
1) Is it correct that the "proof of funds" mentioned in your 26 Oct joint statement is NOT for the full amount of the agreed purchase price?
2) Is it correct that your company has attempted to solicit funds for the purchase of Leeds United by emailing potential investors?
3) Is it correct that those emails offered a seat on Leeds United's board for a minimum investment of £1m?
4) Is it correct that your PR, Sam Bowen, contacted Leeds United Supporters Trust on your behalf ahead of the 10 Oct joint statement in which you said "neither I nor any employee of GFH Capital has been in discussions with the LUST"?
5) Is it correct that you are aware of other bidders for Leeds United Football Club?
6) Is it correct that your current exclusivity agreement on the purchase of Leeds will have expired in December?
7) Is it correct that the £2m funds provided to the club earlier this year must be repaid by Leeds United by next summer to avoid control of the club reverting to GFH Capital?
8) Is it your claim that the quotes contained in this 9 Oct article with The Sun (http://www.thesun.co.u...) are fabricated and used without your permission?
To all these questions the only publishable response was an email from Bowen on Saturday:
Our full and final statement for you. Nothing more to be added.
A GFH Capital Spokesperson said:
"Advanced talks between GFH Capital and the current owners of Leeds United FC continue with the intention of completing the deal soon, assuming all final detail on the contractual side is in place. As a Middle Eastern bank, GFH Capital must ensure certain regulatory procedures are adhered to and wants to ensure finer detail is agreed between both sides in the interests of the club's future, before signatures are traded. Clearly, proof of full funds for the purchase of Leeds United has been shared by GFH Capital and the current owners and Leeds United FC itself have confirmed they are happy with it; an official statement was released this week confirming that the deal in respect of both parties is in a very good place.
GFH Capital is committed to its long term strategy for Leeds United FC: to invest in the football and help to move the club back to the Premier League and for the Club and the fans to once more enjoy the fruits of that position as a successful club in English football."
One further point on the subject of David Haigh's PR Sam Bowen contacting the Leeds United Supporters Trust ahead of the Trust's carefully phrased October 8 statement on the proposed takeover. (http://lufctrust.squar...)
Haigh claimed in an October 10 joint statement with Leeds United that “neither I nor any employee of GFH Capital has been in discussions with the LUST.”
However, LUST chairman Gary Cooper says the Trust was contacted by Bowen, who stated that he was acting on Haigh's behalf.
Cooper said: “I can confirm that we spoke to the same consultant who had been employed by GFH Capital to speak to other sections of the media and Leeds United supporters.”
Both Haigh and Bowen and have declined opportunities to comment.