Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre has officially apologised to the creator of Duncan Jenkins, the fictional Twitter character, for his treatment by the club’s communications director Jen Chang which was neither “appropriate” nor “acceptable.”
Ayre has confirmed to the 'Duncan' creator, Sean Cummins, that the club is undertaking an ongoing investigation into Chang’s conduct, though he has been unwilling to disclose whether Chang will be disciplined. “Clearly it is not appropriate for me to comment on how the club is managing this internally, and I trust you understand this,” Ayre said in a letter which he presented to Cummins when the two men met for a second time, at Liverpool’s Chapel Street offices earlier today.
Cummins, 35, attracted 40,000 Twitter followers to Duncan’ site after launching the comical, bumbling would-be football reporter, or “perspiring journalist” as he described himself. Analysis of his twitter timeline suggests that he used the tweets and reports of mainstream football writers to predict transfer market moves. But Chang, suspecting a club mole was leaking details to the tweeter, tracked down Cummins and at a two-hour meeting in Manchester warned him that fans would make his life a “living hell” if he did not admit he had no club contacts.
The seriousness with which Ayre has treated the issue was revealed when he asked Liverpool's human resources director to attend an 85-minute meeting with Cummins last week in which the writer detailed his correspondence with Chang. Ayre’s letter to Cummins, which has seen by The Independent, does not include a tacit admission that threats were carried out. But it does accept that complaints initially dismissed by Chang to this newspaper as “nonsense” are valid.
“It is apparent that you clearly feel that you have not been treated in a manner that is becoming of a Liverpool FC official,” Ayre told Cummins. “Based on everything I have heard and seen, including information provided by parties involved in this matter, I acknowledge that some of the elements you highlight were not appropriate. If you perceive them to be threatening that is not behaviour that is acceptable for a member of staff. I would therefore like to apologise to you on behalf of Liverpool FC for any upset and distress this has caused you. Clearly it is not appropriate for me to comment on how the club is managing this internally and I trust you understand this."
Chang has gone to ground since Cummins revealed details of his meeting with the new communications director, in a highly detailed blog published on October 12. He withdrew from his place at this month's Football Writers' Association dinner - though the club was powerless to prevent the absence of anyone to collect for Kenny Dalglish the award given for winning the Carling Cup. The award was Dalglish's and Liverpool, who had a representative in the room, were not invited to collect it.
But the episode has been highly embarrassing to a club which views social media as the medium of the future. To that end, Ayre, who met Cummins for around 15 minutes today, concluded in the letter: "As a great sporting institution with a massive supporter base and a major social media following, we encourage fans from across the globe to share for their club and team online and our position on this remains steadfast. Thanks again for meeting me and I appreciate your understanding on these matters."
Cummins feels Ayre has dealt with the matter well and granted him the concern and respect he feels was lacking in Chang. “I appreciate that the club has got more serious issues to handle than what a spoof character was writing on Twitter,” Cummins said tonight. "I did not intend to distract from those issues in any way. I was shocked by the way this unfolded. An apology is what I sought and I got one in writing today.”