The controversial Leeds United Chairman, Ken Bates, was the defendant in a remarkable harassment claim heard last week in the Leeds County Court by Judge Mark Gosnell. The was claim brought by a Yorkshire businessman, Melvyn Levi and his wife Carole Levi against Mr Bates.
The dispute between the parties began after Mr Bates acquired the Leeds United from the Yorkshire Consortium, of which Mr Levi was a member, in 2005. It has already led to a 2009 libel action in which Sir Charles Gray awarded Mr Levi £50,000 damages against Mr Bates (Levi v Bates ( EWHC 1495 (QB)).
The allegations in the harassment case centre on articles in Leeds United’s matchday programme and a broadcast on the club’s radio station.
In opening the case, the Claimants’ counsel, Simon Myserson QC, told that court that one article, referring to Mr Levi and an associate used the phrase “a pair of money-grabbing spivs.” A further piece asked readers to consider what Mr Levi’s role had been in relation to Bramley Rugby League Club, because “the ground is now covered in housing,” while another printed Mr Levi’s home address. Mr Myerson said:
“West Yorkshire Police intervened and security at Mr Levi’s home was beefed up. Mrs Levi was given a personal radio alarm and the couple were told not to leave their home unless absolutely necessary”.
Mr Bates used the Leeds United PA system to issue a ‘wanted’ notice for Mr Levi, asking Yorkshire Radio listeners for tips as to his whereabouts as he sought to recover more than £190,000 he said Mr Levi owed the club. Mr Bates told the club’s solicitor he would arrange for the station to broadcast a similar announcement every day for a fortnight, offering listeners dinner for two in exchange for information on his supposed debtor.
The Court heard evidence from Mr Levi and from Mrs Levi. It also heard from the Leeds United Chief Executive, Shaun Harvey, who admitted that the club was “spending a fortune” on legal fees and from Mr Bates. The hearing was extensively reported in the “Yorkshire Post”. There were also reports of parts of the hearing in the “Guardian” and the “Daily Mail”.
The parties closing submissions were made on Thursday. Jacob Dean on behalf of Mr Bates, told the court that Mr Levi had himself accepted that he was “not a shrinking violet” and football club owners needed “thick skins”. He said
“Mr Levi is a public figure. He chose to enter the world of sport by taking a substantial stake in a football club. He knew about the controversy that football club owners can attract if things do not go well.”
In his closing speech for the Claimants Mr Myerson QC alleged that Mr Bates had lied from the witness box. He said:
“As a witness he is unreliable and as a man he is also unreliable. “That is an important point because that links into the point as to whether there should be an injunction.”
Mr Myerson described Mr Bates’ approach to programme notes as “Stalinist”. He said Mr Levi had been the target of “deliberate hurt” from Mr Bates. The harm done to Mrs Levi had been “collateral damage” in Mr Bates’ “campaign” against Mr Levi.
Judgment was reserved.
Note: if either of the parties would like to supply us with copies of their written submissions to the court we will add them to this post.