He’s back, and it’s almost if he never went away. The return of Stephen Vaughan onto our radar would be funny, if it weren’t for the fact that his involvement in anything to do with football (or, indeed, rugby league) wasn’t such a portent of doom for those likely to be on the receiving end of him. Vaughan has pitched up for an interview with the Chester Leader, stating that he is part of a consortium that is planning to purchase Blue Square Premier club Wrexham. Vaughan was barred from acting as a company director this time last year after being admitting to carousel fraud (a type of VAT fraud), but he seems to be of the opinion that this will not be an issue because “I would be involved strictly as an investor and would have no part in the day-to-day running of the club”.
It is, of course, worth taking a moment to consider Vaughan’s recent in history in the game. He resigned his position at Barrow AFC in 1998 after an HMRC investigation into money laundering at the club, but this didn’t stop Barrow being liquidated in January of 1999 and the club being demoted from the Football Conference at the end of the 1998/99 season. It later transpired that Vaughan had unlawfully transferred the ownership of the club’s Holker Street ground into that of his company, Vaughan Promotions without the permission of the other directors of the club. After a court case brought about by the liquidators, Holker Street was eventually returned to the Barrow in 2002.
Vaughan pitched up at Chester City in 2001. His involvement in the club has been well-documented, but culminated in the club being relegated at the end of the 2008/09 season. By this time, however, he was no longer a director of the club. These had been quietly transferred into the name of his son, Stephen Vaughan Jr, in the April of that year. He put the club into administration and, after a period of brinkmanship, managed to persuade the Football Conference to allow them to start last season with a twenty-five point penalty. Chester descended into chaos, with supporters boycotting the club eventually proving to be the tipping point in its death. With a new company running the club it took just seven months for them to be expelled from the Blue Square Premier, evicted from the Deva Stadium and wound up at the High Court.
None of this, however, would have meant that Vaughan failed the FA’s Fit & Proper Persons Test. Because he had divested his “control” in Chester City prior to their administration during the summer of 2009, he still falls ons the right side of the F&PPT in that respect. His undoing came with the carousel fraud. He used his rugby league club, Widnes Vikings, to perpetrate this fraud, which is best described in the words of the Insolvency Service themselves:
The transactions (the buying and selling of sports goods) appeared to be part of a linked series of purchases between the UK and Europe. Mr Vaughan then attempted to reclaim VAT for the club, however HMRC refused the repayment of the club’s VAT claim on these transactions. Payment for the goods was made via the First Curacao International Bank, based in the Netherlands Antilles. The bank was closed down by banking authorities when it was discovered that it provided banking facilities to a significant number of companies involved in carousel VAT fraud.
He was disqualified from acting as a company director for eleven years in November of last year, and it is on this point that he finally failed the F&PPT. This is probably the biggest motivating factor by Vaughan behind his statement that he would be acting, “strictly as an investor”. The Insolvency Service, however, has rules to cover acting as a director as well as being a director. Shadow directorship (in which an individual acts as a director although not formally listed as one) is frowned upon by the Insolvency Service. Whether they have the resources or will to act upon cases of it, however, is a subtly different matter.
Perhaps this informs Vaughan’s decision to go public and allow himself to be interviewed at such a time. It was always unlikely that he would stay away from the game, no matter how much we may have wanted him to. To allow himself to be interviewed by a local newspaper, however, would seem to indicate that he either still considers himself to be untouchable (possible) or that there is something else going on.
It is worth taking a moment to remember just how hated the current regime at Wrexham is. We’ll be covering this is more detail later on in the week but, for now, we should merely consider that The Racecourse Ground is very much in danger as the result of the behaviour of those running the show over the last couple of years to the extent that there will be an organised protest there when Wrexham play Luton Town in front of the television cameras later on this week. Vaughan’s interview could have been countered by a statement from Wrexham’s former owner Geoff Moss that the interest of Vaughan was not the sort of person that he wanted at his club. Instead, he could only manage an ambiguous comment that offered nothing but an increased sense that he doesn’t give a damn about the club:
I have not had any contact with Stephen Vaughan and know nothing about an offer from any consortium he might be involved in. I do know him from football circles and he did approach us once before – three or four years ago – to buy the club but nothing came of it. The club is for sale and we have had a couple of enquiries but none, as far as I know, have been from Mr Vaughan. Let’s just wait and see if he does make an offer.
So, Stephen Vaughan, while he was still the owner of Chester City, submitted an offer to buy Wrexham? Although he had relinquished ownership of Barrow in 1998, he retained shares in the club even after he took over at Chester City, leading to the farcical situation in which, thumbing his nose to the FA, he sold his shares in Barrow to his painter and decorator days before an FA Cup match between the two clubs. That he was interested in buying Wrexham in 2006 or 2007, before much of the fuss that ended in Chester City dying on his watch, would seem to indicate that this is a leopard unable to change his spots.
So. Barrow: liquidation. Chester City: folded. Widnes Vikings: in administration. This is the track record of Stephen Vaughan, on top of his eleven year disbarrment from acting as a director. Wrexham supporters don’t need convincing of how damaging he could be for their club, so the only thing that we can do is implore the Football Conference, the FA and the FAW to monitor developments at the club as closely as possible. Chester City died because it had to be put down after years of abuse. If there is somebody in a position to ensure that this doesn’t happen to their traditional rivals, it is essential that they do not merely stand aside and allow this to happen again. Moreover, the authorities have it within their power to act on an increasingly worrying situation at Wrexham Football Club. Hopefully, this time they will not leave until it is too late before they act.
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