Liverpool owners lose court battle again

Liverpool's American owners were strongly condemned in the High Court in London today for taking action in the US courts to try to block the sale of the club.

Mr Justice Floyd criticised Tom Hicks and George Gillett as he granted anti-suit injunctions in a bid to nullify decisions taken in the court in Dallas.

The judge said he had given a ruling in London yesterday that meant the English directors of Liverpool could agree a £300million takeover by John W Henry's New England Sporting Ventures (NESV).

But before the board could make any decision last night, Tom Hicks, one of the American owners, secured a temporary restraining order from the Texas court.

Mr Justice Floyd said that, on the face of it, that amounted to "unconscionable conduct on the part of Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett".

Mr Justice Floyd said his mandatory orders were not aimed at the Texas court but Hicks and Gillett to stop them taking further action there and to nullify any orders obtained in Dallas.

David Chivers QC, who told the judge that his clients, NESV, already considered themselves the new owners of Liverpool, asked the judge for a speedy serving of his orders on Hicks and Gillett so the deal with NESV can be completed and money transferred from the US.

He said if the deal was not completed tomorrow, then Hicks and Gillett had succeeded in stopping the sale of Liverpool before repayment of the debt to RBS became due.

The judge gave Hicks and Gillett until 4pm tomorrow to comply with his orders.

The Royal Bank of Scotland, the club's main creditor, had won the injunctions yesterday that would have meant they would be paid back a £200million loan which becomes due for settlement tomorrow.

Richard Snowden QC, for the bank, said there were no legal representatives for Hicks and Gillett in court today although they had been informed of the latest move.

Mr Snowden said they had been forced to act because of "extraordinary events" following the High Court ruling.

He said the American owners had complied with the orders to restore the original directors of the Liverpool board but at the same time had launched a US action.

"About five minutes before before the board was due to commence the meeting at 8.30pm, solicitors for the companies were informed that relief had been obtained from a judge in Texas, purportedly on behalf of the three English companies (which control Liverpool).

"The Texas court seems to have been told remarkably little about the proceedings in this court."

He said the US court had also allowed an injunction to stop RBS exercising its right to recall its loan.

"This is the most outrageous abuse of process."

He said Hicks and Gillett had agreed for the sale process to continue in compliance with the order of the High Court and then they had taken action in the US in defiance of Mr Justice Floyd's "clearly expressed intention".

"The proceedings in Texas are plainly inappropriate. This dispute involves an English football club and three English companies and has no connection with Texas other than that Hicks and Gillett may reside there.

"It is a plain attempt to frustrate and impede the proceedings."

He said the American owners had made "scurrilous allegations" against RBS in the Texas court which had no basis in fact.

Mr Snowden said granting anti-suit injunctions always ran the risk of an affront to a foreign court.

"But it is apparent the US judge himself was aware that what he was being asked to do might cause some ruffling of feathers in this jurisdiction."

Mr Snowden told the judge that today - "at this moment" - Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett were applying in Texas for an order that yesterday's board meeting in the UK was "a contempt of the Texas court".

All the legal proceedings launched by Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett in the US were "in clear contempt of your lordship's judgment".

Their allegations that they were the victims of an "epic swindle" and "grand conspiracy" over Liverpool FC were "wild and scurrilous" assertions with no evidence to support them, said Mr Snowden.

Allegations that RBS was using its worldwide reputation as a banking leader to prevent any transaction that would permit Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett to recover any of their initial investment in the club was "absolutely poppycock".

Lord Grabiner QC, representing the Liverpool companies, revealed the board last night approved the sale of the club to NESV by three votes to two.

"We say the proceedings brought in Dallas are abusive, vexatious and oppressive."

He added: "Having lost in front of your lordship they simply went to another jurisdiction to resume the same debate."

But he said that, in the 28-page petition presented to the judge in Dallas, there was only one paragraph which dealt with the proceedings in London and their claims were "a grotesque parody of the truth".

They had not told the judge they had been refused an order to restrain the sale of Liverpool.

"They concealed the fact because they are now anxious to secure for themselves a second bite of the cherry from that famous jurisdiction, the Dallas County Court.

"If it were not such a serious matter, it would be a joke."

The Dallas proceedings also included a massive claim for damages and claims of a conspiracy, he said.

"The owners' behaviour conclusively demonstrates just how incorrigible they are.

"They are absolutely determined to stop this transaction in its tracks and they have no lawful justification for behaving in this way."

He added: "This is unconscionable behaviour of the worst possible kind and they are probably sitting there giggling."

Mr Chivers told the judge that NESV "are the owners of Liverpool now".

He described Hicks and Gillett as "the owners from beyond the grave who are seeking to exercise with their dead hand a continuing grip on this company.

"That is simply not acceptable."

Meanwhile, earlier today, Singapore businessman Peter Lim withdrew from the race to acquire Liverpool after claiming he was "ignored" by the club's board, however he has not ruled out returning at a later date.

The billionaire lodged an improved bid of £320million - bettering the accepted offer from New England Sports Ventures (NESV) by £20million - on Tuesday morning.

Lim felt the board should have given more consideration to his bid, in which he also promised to provide manager Roy Hodgson with a £40million transfer kitty for January.

However, yesterday's High Court ruling - pursued by the club's major creditors Royal Bank of Scotland - paved the way for the NESV deal to go through.

Even last night's Texas court temporary restraining order obtained by owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett did not enhance Lim's chances as the American duo made the claim there are better bids waiting to be made.

Lim has now given up his current bid to takeover from Hicks and Gillett, although he has indicated it is not the end of his interest.

He said in a statement: "I have tried to engage constructively with the board and RBS based on an offer, funded from my existing resources, providing greater value for Liverpool Football Club, more cash for players, full repayment of all bank debts and a long-term personal commitment to build a better future for the club and its supporters.

"The board and RBS have chosen not to respond or to discuss my offer with me.

"My representatives even offered to meet the board last night. This was ignored, although NESV was invited to attend that meeting.

"It has become clear to me that the board is intent on selling the club to NESV to the exclusion of all other parties, regardless of the merits of their bids.

"In these circumstances, I am not able to proceed with my intention to acquire the club.

"If current events cause the circumstances to change, my interest in acquiring the club remains.

"I would, however, extend my very best wishes to Liverpool Football Club, the staff and players, and the fans, who really deserve better than this.

"I hope the club now moves towards realising its potential and achieves success on the pitch."

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