Lineker libel trial collapses after jury fails to reach verdict

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The High Court libel trial that was prompted by Gary Lineker's remarks about a £5m Premiership transfer has collapsed.

The jury of 12 was discharged on the seventh day of the case after failing to reach a majority verdict on whether the article in The Sunday Telegraph by the former footballer turned pundit defamed the Liverpool player Harry Kewell.

Lawyers for Mr Kewell brought the case against the Match of the Day presenter, saying that he had been portrayed as a "knave" who was guilty of dishonourable conduct over the transfer from Leeds United to Liverpool in the summer of 2003.

After the jury was discharged, Mr Lineker said to reporters: "It looks like a replay. I can't say anything else because I don't know what is going to happen."

Costs for the case so far, estimated at £250,000 combined for both sides, will be carried forward to a possible retrial. The collapse of a libel trial is highly unusual. The judge, Mr Justice Eady, said he had not presided over such an outcome for 18 years. Mr Kewell's lawyer, Chris Farnell, said: "I think it clearly proves that Harry Kewell had a strong case to bring ... I think there has been a big celebrity factor here"

The trial has shed further light on the dealings of players and agents in transfers in the world's richest football league. Mr Kewell's personal manager, Bernie Mandic, was acting for all three parties.

He was a middleman for Leeds and was in talks with Liverpool to cut Mr Kewell's fee, on the understanding that he pocketed 50 per cent of any saving for the Merseyside club.

Mr Mandic, through his company Max Sport, was paid £2m of the £5m transfer fee and received 5 per cent of Kewell's annual earnings, which amounted to £87,500 in the first year alone of the player's five-year contract.

In addition, Sydney-based Sports Corp International (SCI), a company run by Mr Mandic's brother Nicolas and whom Mr Mandic works for as a freelance consultant, was paid £1m on the deal by Liverpool, the buying club.

Mr Mandic's earnings came at a time when the clamour for the signature of Mr Kewell - a gifted striker also capable of playing in midfield - involved a virtual Who's Who of elite clubs in Britain and on the Continent. Mr Mandic admitted in court that he "sat back" and let the calls come in from interested clubs.

During the trial, the court was told Mr Kewell paid little attention to the transfer fee - as long as he got the 20 per cent pay rise - and was unaware that Mr Mandic was charging up to 80 per cent of his £2m fee for work in connecting Leeds with a feeder club, Sydney Olympic, a system that failed to materialise.

It also emerged that Mr Lineker had not written the newspaper column first hand - a journalist had.