LONDON IRISH yesterday lost a landmark High Court case against four former players and now face a legal bill approaching pounds 250,000. The club was sued for breach of contract after dispensing with the services of the former Ireland captain Niall Hogan, Mike Corcoran, Sean Burns and Ray Hennessy in the summer of 1998.
Deputy Judge Christopher Purchas QC ordered that the plaintiffs be awarded in full their lost earnings - amounting to pounds 72,592 - and that their costs of pounds 80,000 be met by the club. The compensation payment is also liable to interest that will have accrued over the last 18 months and that, coupled with the club's own costs, could take the final bill well over the pounds 200,000 mark.
The judge ruled that all four claimants had agreed two-year, fixed-term contracts with London Irish which were to run until August 1999. Those contracts had been negotiated with the then director of rugby, Willie Anderson, although the players understood that they would receive written contracts from the club. But Purchas said that Anderson was entitled to negotiate salary and length of contract with the players provided they remained within the confines of his budget.
The club contested that there were no legal and binding contracts between the players and itself. However, some players had received heads of terms, written confirmation of the main points of their contracts. The players never received written contracts in full.
None of the players were available for comment, but last night London Irish issued the following statement: "London Irish is disappointed with the judge's ruling. The club believes that there is no foundation to the claim by its former players. The club's board of directors will be considering its position with the intention of deciding on its future course of action."
It is not known whether that action will involve an appeal, but it could prove a landmark decision and open the floodgates for further claims throughout the sporting world. Two more London Irish players were reported to be awaiting the outcome of this case before deciding whether to pursue claims.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies