My limited experience of writing on football finance and club takeover and ownership issues has taught me one thing; that no matter what the specific issue under those headings, the Rangers Football Club will always supply an extreme, and invariably extremely daft, example. As I was writing my last article, about Birmingham City’s sledgehammer-on-nut legal action against the Often Partisan website, a similar story was escalating in Glasgow. The Rangers “situations” have introduced all shades of individual characters to Scottish football, and have spawned almost as many fans’ protest groups.
One of these “characters” is Alexander “Sandy” Easdale, co-owner of the Greenock-based McGill’s bus company with his brother James and sole executive director of “The Rangers Football Club Ltd” (TRFCL), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the pretentiously-entitled “Rangers International Football Club” (RIFC), the ‘parent company’ of all things Ibrox. One of these fans’ protest groups is Sons of Struth, named in honour of Bill Struth, Rangers’ pioneering manager between 1920 and 1954 and generally regarded as the most important man in the history of the old Rangers. The Sons (SOS) are more a Facebook page than a formal group. But they have had a high-profile in recent fans’ protests, through spokesman Craig Houston. And Houston has been the specific recent target of lawyers representing Easdale, who has long taken issue with the way he and his brother have been portrayed in the Glasgow football blogosphere.
The Easdales’ business reputation has long been filed by some as being in the ‘shady’ column. Suffice to say that the nickname the “Kraysdales” has often been applied by the brothers’ critics and has stuck to them, although there is no open suggestion that the name is at all appropriate. Sandy Easdale’s reputation is also sullied in critics’ eyes by his well-publicised conviction for VAT fraud, dating back to 1997. And as well as the insinuations inherent in the above nickname, lawyers have had to pull people up on references to Easdale as a “crook,” which have been founded on this conviction.
Any bloggers with the most basic journalism training would know that despite Easdale’s criminal conviction, the term “crook” is no longer appropriate under the terms of the “Rehabilitation of Offenders Act,” which effectively scrub convictions from a person’s record after a certain number of years, depending on the nature and seriousness, or otherwise, of the particular offence. Sandy Easdale’s conviction became “spent” after ten years as, like current Rangers fan-hero Dave King, his criminality carried a prison term of between six and thirty months. Thus while the conviction can be mentioned – and boy has it been – such mentions must not be “malicious.” Calling Easdale a crook on the basis of a conviction old enough to have a provisional driving licence can be considered pretty malicious.
It was certainly considered so by Brian Pollack of Glasgow solicitors Levy and McRae, who sent Houston a letter complaining about one particular reference to Easdale as a crook. The letter noted, in a phrase which has considerable comic merit if read in the serious tones of legal letters, that “the implication made by the user, Scot Nosurrender Billyboy… implies criminality in broad, unqualified terms.” The user was thought not to be posting under his real name… probably. The letter was generally a little odd. The afore-mentioned “implication” (not repeated in the letter) became an “assertion” (for which “no supporting evidence whatsoever is tendered in support”) in a very clumsily drafted next sentence. It added: “These allegations have no basis in fact &, given that you have made no attempt to justify what has been said or verify the content prior to publication, makes clear that they are also malicious” which reads like grammatical nonsense, if nothing else
Houston reported on March 7th “that the lawyer also asked me to pass on all information I have about the posters,” adding: “Ex-crook may be a more accurate description but I would ask not to use this term either. Please refer only to him (SIC) as Sandy Easdale, Alexander Easdale, or Mr Easdale in future.” However, on the same day, the SOS Facebook page carried an article on Easdale entitled Sandy, Sandy, where’s the dough? which referenced an interview Easdale did with STV’s Peter Smith, a week before the RIFC AGM last December and questioned why Easdale was being interviewed at all, given that he wasn’t up for re-election at the AGM.
The article poured scorn on Easdale’s performance, especially his claim to have investors lined-up if the incumbent board, including James, were re-elected. Writing in the aftermath of the board’s decision to borrow £1.5m from Easdale himself and hedge fund managers and major RIFC shareholders Laxey Partners, the author asked, pertinently, “surely the investors you claim you had could have invested, instead of going cap in hand to Laxey… If (your) claims back then are true then where are they?” But the next sentence got Easdale’s lawyers involved: “You also wouldn’t have had to dip into your pocket for £500k, if indeed you actually did give this money from your own debatable sources.”
As Houston noted in a Public Apology to Mr Sandy Easdale, “Mr Easdale feels that the post headed “Sandy, Sandy, where’s the dough?” is defamatory as we describe his money used to invest in Rangers as “debatable income.” Houston contextualised the comment as “made in reference to an interview given to STV where Mr Easdale refused to explain why he would be in a position to invest a sum of £1m when his bus company over the previous two years had produced a profit of approximately £100,000.” But he was forced to “apologise to Mr Easdale if he felt we were suggesting he is currently involved in any form of criminality & assure him we only mean if his income from his bus company does not allow such amounts of investment then where his income came from is left open for debate.”
This question was raised, and evaded, in Smith’s STV interview. So when Houston concluded: “we are confident it comes from no dubious or criminal source,” a cynical on-looker might themselves conclude that this phrase was more at the lawyer’s insistence than from Houston’s own instinct. Five days later, the above was trumpeted as the result of an “investigation” by the Daily Record newspaper, although all its information was available to anyone with access to Facebook and basic literacy. And, to give the story some oomph, Keith Jackson, the Record’s award-winning journalist and avid follower of Rangers internet stories, linked controversial “PR-guru” Jack Irvine’s departure to the mess (a “spin” some might have thought “worthy” of Irvine himself).
But the story had oomph of its own, as Houston posted a Levy and McCrae internal communication which stated: “It’s time for litigation” and that the firm should “prepare summons for the Court of Session” if “this continues.” And Houston personally approached (or “confronted”, according to the Record) Easdale at the next home game, on March 12th, in search of an explanation for this escalation in legal activity, especially as Easdale’s lawyers were using contact information which Houston explained could only have come from the club’s own database, and were involving court officials to obtain further information.
Two days later, Houston and Jackson both offered versions of what followed. Houston told Jackson that: “I’ve received a letter which makes it clear solicitors are preparing proceedings against myself and other named individuals at the Court of Session. The letter does not make clear the nature of the charges. But it does make clear that this board continues to turn on its own.” Houston posted in more detail on the SOS Facebook page later that day, stating that “due to even further threats of court action, I believe it’s time to share with the Rangers family exactly what drove me to (approach Easdale).”
Houston’s gripes were two-fold. Legal documentation had consistently been sent to his parents’ address – which was the club’s contact point for him. He had spoken to Rangers’ Chief Executive Graham Wallace, who “advised me that an investigation had taken place and he found no evidence that the address was leaked from Ibrox.” Yet that address was no other organisation’s contact point for Houston. So Wallace, at best, could not have looked very hard. And Easdale’s lawyers threatened to send court officials to Houston’s (elderly) parents’ house to, somehow, “obtain” Houston’s address, while Houston was as determined that “they had no need for it as they can correspond via email.”
Easdale told Jackson that he didn’t “have a problem with people criticising me if I’ve done something wrong at Rangers. But taking it to a personal level has to stop.” And he added that his lawyers had told Houston to “sign something saying he won’t do it again… but if he says no we’ll take him to the Court of Session. I don’t want to take any fan to court but… I’m not having it anymore.” If that sounded hyper-sensitive, Houston’s account brought Easdale’s whinge down to school playground level: “He stated that ‘I took the piss’ and even slagged his hair on our Facebook page. He confirmed that any libelous comments had been made by others but his problem with me was that even my public apologies ‘took the piss out of him.’”
Not surprisingly, the reference to slagging “his hair” provided Easdale’s critics with hours of fun. And it is hard to envisage a Court of Session ruling on such trivialities being much more than “Dry your eyes, Easdale.” As noted above, Houston’s apology contextualised the allegedly defamatory comments posted about Easdale’s “own debatable sources” of income. But it was an apology. And Houston has properly dealt with references to Easdale being a “crook” or even an “ex-crook” (cynics may, of course, note the irony of such references to Easdale while actual criminal Dave King – who pled guilty to forty-one criminal counts of contravening the South Africa Income Tax Act last year – is touted by some as Rangers’ saviour).
More serious is TRFCL’s apparent willingness to let its director indulge in such expensive folly when he should be dedicating his time and efforts to solving Rangers’ serious financial issues, not potentially exacerbating them – Rangers-minded people must hope that all such legal expenses will be Easdale’s and not TRFCL’s. More serious still is Rangers’ seeming assistance to Easdale, which raises huge data protection concerns. And more serious still is Wallace’s initial attempts to suggest that Rangers were offering no such assistance. If Sandy Easdale believes his aggressive legal strategy will have any chilling effect on his critics, he might be exposed as a misguided fool. And if Rangers were being run by misguided fools, they would really be in trouble.
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