It certainly was a strange week.
Peter Lawwell , facing pressure at the upcoming AGM to do his job with a touch of integrity and actually look after his customers interests instead of helping to turn Scottish football into televised wrestling, would have been delighted to see attention focused on the other side of Glasgow for a while.
Especially as it gives the fans something to laugh about.
The London Times (Scottish division ) made themselves look rather silly with an article that hinted-stepping just short of actually saying so and thus offering any evidence -that the taxman was at fault for the demise of Rangers back in the early part of this decade.
The problem for its author, Magnus Llewellin, was that in an unprecedented move, the accused shot him down rather publicly shortly after publication..
The row over the firing of a columnist at Glasgow’s Sunday Herald shows no signs of dying down.
Members of Scottish PEN, wrote a letter to the paper’s editor-in-chief, Magnus Llewellin, to register their concern about Angela Haggerty being dismissed.
The letter, published on the website of the group that campaigns for freedom of expression, said its members are “deeply troubled” by the newspaper’s decision to sack Haggerty “for showing her support for fellow journalist Graham Spiers.”
Spiers decided he couldn’t write for the Herald after disagreeing about the timing of its publication of an apology for one of his columns about the problems of bigotry “around” Rangers football club. Haggerty then expressed her support for him on Twitter.
The National Union of Journalists accused the Herald of “pandering to the mob”. It removed its statement for a while but later reinstated it.*
Like Scottish PEN’s admission that it was unaware of “details” about pressure exerted on the Herald by Rangers, the NUJ’s decision reflected a lack of knowledge about the incident.
My understanding is that a single sentence in Spiers’s column, an allegation about a Rangers board director, was regarded as defamatory.
Although contentious articles are usually read for possible libels prior to publication by the paper’s lawyers, Levy & McRae, an editorial staff error meant that Spiers’s column, which was published on the Herald’s website, slipped through the net.
Once Rangers objected, Llewellin found himself in a bind familiar to all journalists in such situations. He received legal advice saying the allegation was indefensible, and that if he tried to defend it – which he spent a fortnight initially trying to do – the paper would have faced major costs.
Crucially, I understand that the costs would most likely have been borne by the editorial budget and, in Llewellin’s view, could therefore have resulted in job cuts. (I’ll deal with this in a moment).
So Llewellin felt he had to publish the apology. It stated: “We acknowledge every member of the Rangers board is fully committed to fighting bigotry and offensive chanting, wherever it occurs in Scottish football, and that the club is actively tackling the issue.”
Its publication upset Spiers who responded with an online statement saying he wanted more time to clarify his position. He realised that his opposition to the apology would effectively cut his ties with the Herald.
He acknowledged that he could afford to be bold because he has other income, writing for the Times and through broadcasting for the BBC.
But Haggerty, a relatively new columnist with the Sunday Herald, was sympathetic to Spiers’s plight and, as someone who has previously suffered abuse from from Rangers fans after editing a book about the club, she wrote a tweet in which she complained about Rangers’ bigotry.
As I wrote previously, she maintains that she was referring to fans, but the Herald saw it differently and considered it to be a reference to Rangers’ directors. The paper therefore viewed it as a failure “to act within the spirit of its apology.”
Lewellin told me he regards Haggerty as “a brave and talented journalist” but her reference to “glaring bigotry at Ibrox” only hours “after we’d published a very carefully worded apology to avoid legal action, she (unwittingly) undermined it.”
In a Bella Caledonia piece about the circumstances of her sacking, Haggerty said Llewellin had informed her that “representatives of Rangers Football Club” had brought her tweets to the attention of the Herald, “and that, to cut a long story short, the paper was under so much legal pressure that he felt he had no option but to let me go.”
She wrote: “He also informed me that Neil MacKay, editor of the Sunday Herald, had fought strongly to stop it happening, but in the end he was overruled.” Mackay underlined that fact in a tweet saying it was not his decision to remove Haggerty.
I emailed Llewellin to ask if he would consider reinstating Haggerty but he replied that “as things stand at present, and to show the good faith and collective responsibility… bringing her back would be difficult – for the time being at least.”
At least that final phrase offers Haggerty a possible lifeline for the future, if she wishes to grab it.
Now let me go back to that matter of legal costs being borne by the editorial department. I am not doubting Llewellin’s word, but I am amazed that a publisher – in this case, Newsquest/Gannett – might expect an editor to sacrifice jobs over a legal action.
That casts the whole business of Llewellin’s decision-making in a new light.
*This sentence was amended after the NUJ reposted its statement
The Times has decided to stand by the article, at least until Llewellin is summoned to London for that chat about the paper moving in a new direction, and he hasn’t got a seat on the train….
The stunning Times revelations reveals that due to, as yet, unidentified means, reasons or origin, Rangers were overcharged by HMRC to the tune of around £60M when something under £20M was more accurate.
This invalid sum, chased up by the Inland Revenue, was simply too much for Rangers’ coffers to pay, and despite it being effectively illegal, it caused Rangers’ existing holding company to cease trading and nearly cost Rangers fans their club.
For 7 years this club has had every vindictive jibe under the sun thrown at it, from cheats, tax dodgers, sc*m of the earth, you name it.
Yesterday’s report from a highly-respected newspaper, following an investigation, confirms Rangers did absolutely nothing wrong and were charged a sum they were unable to pay.
Ergo, the apology from the SPFL, SFA and Scottish football at large has been thoroughly welcomed.
Hint: irony alert.
Rather than accept the findings and apologise like men, we’ll hear nothing.
The BBC have already effectively whitewashed the story, leaving it to the ‘gossip’ columns and no more, while the major of news north of the border has absolutely ignored this.
Only in Scotland could an institution like Rangers being scammed in this manner not be worthy of discussion, or indeed apology.
Rangers are considering legal action over what happened 7 years ago, and as well they might. But you won’t hear a soul in this country admit they were wrong.
Indeed, following this story the site received an email abusing the club further, asking us why we had a problem with the BBC and Sportscene among others, and why did we feel superior to them.
If nothing else indicates what’s wrong with this country, that’s it.