Wigan rugby chief denies libel scam

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The Independent Online
Jack Robinson, chairman of Wigan Rugby League Club, tried to induce the director of another club to join him in a fraudulent scheme to win a damages case against his local newspaper, a court heard yesterday.

Bolton Crown Court heard that Mr Robinson, 54, devised a scheme to pursue an action for damages against the Wigan Observer, claiming that as a result of its report, Leeds Rugby League Club had pulled out of a lucrative transfer deal for one of Wigan's star players.

Alan Conrad, for the prosecution, said Mr Robinson sought the help of Alfred Davies, chief executive of Leeds, to support his claim, which stemmed from a match in February last year when Wigan were surprisingly beaten by Salford.

Mr Robinson gave an interview to the Wigan Observer in which he criticised the club coach, Graham West, for allowing players to go to Tenerife before the match. The interview was followed by reports alleging players had been involved in "a drunken binge".

The paper mistakenly named one player, Neil Cowie, as being a member of the holiday group when he was not present. Mr Robinson decided to try to turn the mistake to his financial advantage "in a fraudulent manner", Mr Conrad said.

In phone calls to Mr Davies, Robinson suggested the bogus transfer deal with a view to splitting the profits of a libel action "50-50". "That was clearly a fraudulent suggestion," Mr Conrad added. After Mr Davies's first refusal, Mr Robinson repeated his offer, adding: "Re the Neil Cowie situation: we will give you an extra 10 per cent if you play ball."

"Mr Davies told him to 'bugger off'," Mr Conrad said.

The Wigan Observer's editor, Carl Johnston, received a solicitors' letter claiming Cowie's proposed transfer deal had been called off due to the paper's article and demanding a retraction and payment of damages and full legal costs. When he checked the deal with Mr Davies, the "amazed" Leeds chief wrote to Mr Robinson demanding not to be involved.

The court heard Mr Robinson wrote to Mr Davies saying there had been "an unfortunate misunderstanding" and he had never intended to involve Mr Davies in the legal action.

Mr Robinson denies two charges of inducement to produce a fraudulent instrument and one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice.