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Oct 13, 2010

Liverpool takeover to go ahead as owners lose case

The High Court has ruled in favour of Royal Bank of Scotland and against Liverpool co-owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett, meaning the takeover agreed by the board with New England Sports Ventures (NESV) can go through as planned.

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Hicks and Gillett have been denied the right to appeal the decision at the High Court, though there is the possibility that they could apply to the Court of Appeal - the second highest court in the United Kingdom - though this appears unlikely.

Liverpool released a statement on their official website, which read: ''We are delighted that the court has clarified the issue of board composition and has removed the uncertainty around the sale process. We will now be consulting with our lawyers and planning for a board meeting tonight. A further statement will be made in due course.''

Chairman Martin Broughton would not confirm that NESV will be the new owners of the club, leaving open the possibility that Singaporean businessman Peter Lim may yet see his own £320 million offer accepted at Wednesday evening's board meeting. However, that remains very much an outside possibility as NESV have a legally binding agreement with the club.

Liverpool supporters will be jubilant after Mr Justice Floyd rejected applications by Hicks and Gillett for an injunction to halt sale negotiations until they had attended a board meeting and there be further discussions over any sale agreement.

"I am not prepared to grant any relief," he said. "If I did it would risk stopping the sale and purchase agreement going ahead."

Instead, at RBS's request, the judge imposed injunctions on the co-owners to reconstitute the board, meaning commercial director Ian Ayre, managing director Christian Purslow and Broughton can approve the sale of the club to NESV.

Hicks and Gillett have been denied a direct avenue of appeal, so the judgement appears to be a clear victory for RBS and the Liverpool board, led by Broughton. Mr Justice Floyd said it would be "inappropriate in the circumstances" to grant the Americans leave and that they would have to apply to the appeal court.

Keith Oliver of solicitors Peters & Peters, who are acting for the Americans, said: "We are obviously disappointed with the judge's decision. Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett will now be considering their next steps, and that will include whether to make an application to the Court of Appeal."

Speaking outside the court, Broughton said: "I am absolutely elated, it's a very important day for our club. This will clear the way for the sale, we will have a board meeting this evening and proceed with the sale. It has been an anxious time but we have been confident. But when you go to court you can ever be sure."

Regarding the sale to NESV, Broughton added: "The board has to be reconstituted and I can't prejudge what the board is going to say. It would be inappropriate to prejudge what the board may say.

"I want to thank the fans for their support through a difficult time. We hope to have the board meeting this evening. We will get the right owners for the fans. It was an excellent outcome and I will be very pleased when the process we came in to do is completed."

Asked for his opinion of Hicks and Gillett, Broughton added: "I'm disappointed they've acted in this way to try and breach the undertakings they gave me. I will be very pleased when the process is completed."

When a takeover is completed, RBS will recoup the £237 million owed to it by the club's holding company, preventing Liverpool from going into administration and possibly incurring a nine-point deduction.

They also issued a statement which read: ''Today's judgment vindicates the actions RBS has taken to ensure that decisions concerning the future of Liverpool Football Club are made by a properly constituted board acting in the club's best interests. RBS has every confidence that having been put on a proper footing, the board will now reach appropriate decisions regarding the next steps.''

On Tuesday, Richard Snowden QC, acting for RBS, accused the two American owners of "breathtaking arrogance" as the bank claimed the pair contradicted the rules of a sales agreement when trying to remove Ayre and Purslow from the board last week. Ayre and Purslow had joined Broughton in voting to approve the sale of the club to NESV.

Hicks and Gillett admitted the sales agreement was breached but argued they were forced to take that course of action because a "sub-committee" of the board excluded them from the sales agreement and did not consider alternative offers for the club.

Following Wednesday's judgement, Ayre and Purslow will remain on the reconstituted board and a takeover can be formally approved. Hicks and Gillett stand to lose £144 million from the sale of the club that they purchased in 2007.

John W Henry, who fronts NESV, greeted the news on Twitter by writing: "Well done Martin, Christian & Ian. Well done RBS. Well done supporters!"

A statement on Liverpool's website read: "We are delighted that the court has clarified the issue of board composition and has removed the uncertainty around the sale process. We will now be consulting with our lawyers and planning for a board meeting tonight. A further statement will be made in due course."

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