Exclusive: Worcester Warriors sale in spotlight over administrator’s email to witness
The impartiality of Worcester Warriors’ sale process has been called into question after the administrators were accused of pressuring a witness ahead of a parliamentary select committee.
A partner at DCMS–appointed administrators Begbies Traynor warned the witness that they could be sued for defamation if they repeated allegations about preferred bidder Jim O’Toole’s Atlas consortium while giving evidence at the hearing.
The witness told friends they felt intimidated and offended by the warning from regional managing partner Julie Palmer, which was made by email the day before the hearing in November and raises questions about possible favouritism towards Atlas.
The administrators last week exchanged contracts with Atlas despite the Rugby Football Union (RFU) refusing to approve the sale of the former Premiership rugby club to former Worcester chief executive O’Toole’s group until the group made certain pledges.
A complaint relating to the matter was made to Damien Green MP – the acting chair of the DCMS Select Committee – whose office said they could not investigate because the complaint was raised by a third party and not the witness.
“In mid-December the RFU was made aware of the concerns of an individual regarding the conduct of Begbies Traynor in relation to the DCMS Select Committee Hearing,” said the governing body.
“We have remained in contact with the individual to offer our ongoing support. The RFU has consistently raised the need for this to be a transparent and impartial process.”
Witnesses at select committees are not at risk of being sued for defamation because, like parliament and court hearings, participants are protected by absolute privilege.
Lawyers for the administrators told City A.M. they “categorically denied” seeking to “pressure a witness at the select committee hearing from testifying in any way” and unfairly favouring the Atlas bid over others.
“Ultimately, the Atlas consortium was the highest offer that was capable of implementation in the relevant timescales in accordance with the statutory duties of the administrators,” they said.
O’Toole’s bid – in conjunction with a consortium made up of ex-player James Sandford and Atlas SportsTech – was chosen as the successful bid to rescue the troubled club ahead of other bids, including one fronted by former head coach Steve Diamond.
The winning consortium has not yet met the criteria set by the RFU to operate as an elite club, meaning they could remain frozen out of the professional game, and have been given until 14 February to comply.