Football League to sue legal advisers over ITV Digital deal

The ITV Digital catastrophe of two years ago continued to reverberate yesterday with the Football League launching legal action against the solicitors who advised it on the deal.

Many clubs outside the top flight were left in financial limbo after ITV Digital went into administration in March 2002 owing £178.5m for the remaining two seasons of their contract with the League.

Some clubs went into administration and the League is now suing Hammonds Solicitors for alleged negligence or breach of contract. The law firm intends to "vigorously contest" the action and denies suggestions that it previously discussed a settlement with the League.

The Football League chairman, Sir Brian Mawhinney, said that High Court proceedings were issued yesterday against Hammonds, previously known as Edge Ellison, the League's advisers during contract negotiations with ITV Digital in 2000.

The last legal action by the League over the ITV Digital contract ended in defeat two years ago when it failed to make ITV's parent companies Carlton and Granada pay up instead.

The League released a statement which said: "The League's proceedings claim that during the negotiation and completion of its broadcasting agreement with ITV Digital (at the relevant time known as ONDigital), Hammonds were negligent and/or in breach of contract and failed to protect the League's interests. They include a claim for substantial damages."

The deal struck in June 2000 gave ONDigital the rights to broadcast Football League matches for three seasons from 2001-02, but in an already inflated television market it proved prohibitively costly. Television audiences were often outnumbered by crowds at the games and the TV channel collapsed after less than a season.

A statement from Hammonds read: "The proceedings are without merit and will be vigorously contested. Contrary to recent press speculation, at no time have we entered into discussions with the Football League on settlement of this dispute.

"We are clear about the extent of our role in providing legal advice to the Football League in connection with the League's negotiations with ITV Digital in 2000 and we are satisfied that we performed our duties fully and with the utmost professional care."

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