Blackburn Rovers slammed as 'woeful' and 'unforgivable' by judge in Henning Berg pay dispute

Club lambasted in court as ‘unforgivable’ after late U-turn over paying the contract of their former manager

The farcical way Blackburn Rovers are run was laid bare in a court of law when the club were pilloried by a presiding judge who described their way of operating as “utterly unforgivable,” as they launched a last-minute fight to stop sacked manager Henning Berg being awarded £2.2m in unpaid wages.

Having initially agreed to meet Berg’s demands for the payment of his three-year contract in full, Rovers revealed at a High Court hearing that they had changed their minds, by filing papers after a pre-agreed deadline in a way Judge Mark Pilling said was “woefully inadequate” and “entirely contrary to the way justice is supposed to be served”.

The club’s principal owner, Anuradha Desai, has hired new solicitors who, the court heard, will now claim that the club’s managing  director, Derek Shaw, had no authority to give 43-year-old Berg – who was sacked after 56 days in December – a contract entitling him to such lucrative severance terms, rather than the one-year of pay she sanctioned. The court, sitting in Manchester, heard Shaw is now at the centre of disciplinary proceedings instigated by Desai, for defying her orders.

But Desai’s claim that Shaw had no authority is deeply undermined by a press release – still accessible on the Rovers’ website last night – which claimed earlier this month that Shaw has the “complete backing and  support” of the owners and that there was “no investigation” into the Berg contract.

The club claimed in court that the press release, entitled “Owners respond to Berg rumours” and issued by the club’s press department on Shaw’s orders, was “not true”.

A disciplinary letter, fundamental to Desai’s lawyers’ new case, was sent 24 hours before the press statement and directly contradicts it, the judge said.

The initial Shaw disciplinary process was hamstrung by another hitch to the running of the club: Rovers' "global adviser" Shebby Singh had been unable to obtain a travel visa quickly enough to return to Blackburn to tackle Shaw. Singh and Shaw's power struggle has been the principal reason why Berg and Michael Appleton have been sacked in quick succession, during a wretched season.

Judge Pilling left Rovers in little doubt that they are likely to fail in their attempts to defeat Berg's action, details of which were revealed by The Independent last month. He did grant the club's barristers the chance to argue, at a later hearing, that Berg's contract is not binding because Shaw lacked the authority to offer it. But the judge also concluded that the case was "borderline arguable" and said: "I've come close to dismissing this application out of hand but I'm just persuaded [to allow it]." The owners' case was "contradicted" by the website press release, he said.

Yet it was also the manner of the 11th-hour change of course by Desai's lawyers which infuriated the judge, who said it was "guaranteed just to waste time and money". Only late on Monday did the club's new solicitors lodge a draft application to withdraw the initial agreement to pay Berg in full. The application discussed the inclusion of a witness statement supporting the club's case, though no witness statement was attached. After close of business hours on Monday, an unsigned witness statement was sent. Yet another, signed version of the witness statement presented to the court differed from the original one. The club's barrister, Neil Berragan, said that the delay stemmed from the need of the club's owners to discuss the case with their solicitors.

The club's attempts to prevent Berg securing the full £2.2m will depend on their lawyers making the case that the former Rovers player and his agent should have known that the owners – not the managing director – held the ultimate authority. Shaw appeared to have further undermined that position by taking the decision to pay Berg an initial £562,500, though the court heard that he did so without informing Desai. His thinking was he "might as well do it and ease her into it gently". Berg is still owed £1.6m gross.

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for