The intense pressure on Harlequins generated by the "Bloodgate" scandal, which began with an incident of naked cheating during a Heineken Cup quarter-final last April and grew progressively worse as the Londoners attempted a cynical cover-up of the incident, broke the club open again last night when Charles Jillings, one of their principal investors, resigned as chairman and stood down as a director.
During the course of this latest drama, he aimed darts at both Tom Williams, still a member of the playing squad, and Dean Richards, who quit as director of rugby earlier this month.
"We... acknowledge that we failed to control Dean Richards," he said in his resignation statement. "I trusted Dean. As a result of the board's failure to exercise control, the club cheated. This is totally unacceptable."
Jillings insisted he had no knowledge of the gravity of the chicanery until Williams spilt the beans in late July, after the initial European Rugby Cup hearing into the affair – a hearing at which a variety of Harlequins figures, including Williams and Richards, told a pack of lies.
Jillings, co-owner of the club with the Australia-based businessman Duncan Saville, has known for the last four days that his position had become untenable. During his appeal against a one-year suspension for his role in the cheating – the biting on a blood capsule at Richards' behest as part of a ruse to make an illicit substitution – Williams told a disciplinary panel how the chairman had offered him a "compensation package" including a contract extension, a testimonial and guaranteed employment at the club after the conclusion of his playing career. Damningly, Jillings also urged him to appeal on a "limited" basis that might spare Harlequins the worst of the consequences.
"I sought to address the wrongs and determine a way forward in an honest manner," Jillings said. "I sought a solution, not a cover-up. Within this framework, I met Tom Williams." Jillings continued: "I apologised unreservedly and sincerely to him for the position he found himself in. The offer of compensation was for damage incurred and was not a bribe or threat. The offer was made on the basis of what he could have expected had his career continued on its projected path, uninterrupted by these events. Interestingly, Tom commented that I was not offering anything he could not achieve as a player. I made it clear to Tom that he had cheated and lied and that this was no basis for being rewarded.
"I did suggest he could appeal on a limited basis in order that we, the club, could try to contain the ramifications for all involved... Tom's lawyer then advised that it would not be sensible to appeal if Tom could not divulge everything. This point was well made. On reflection over the next 24 hours, I realised I had possibly left Tom Williams unclear about my stance. This had never been my intention."
He went on to describe his "shock" at a counter-proposal from Williams, which included a new four-year contract at "substantially higher levels plus as exorbitant lump sum". The chairman then reiterated that his own offer of compensation had "absolutely no conditions attached", adding: "In my opinion it protected Tom for the wrongs caused by the club's failure to control. In no way did this constitute a reward or an offer for his silence.
"With hindsight, my judgement can be called into question by the proximity of my suggestion of limited disclosure by Tom Williams on the one hand, and a financial package proposal on the other. As chairman, I am ultimately responsible for all decisions. I apologise unreservedly to all our stakeholders for inadvertently compounding the issues.."
Malcolm Wall, chairman of the club between 1997 and 2000, will take over on an interim basis. For his part, Jillings will continue as an investor.
Meanwhile, the RFU released details of a 13-man task group charged with conducting an investigation into cheating in English rugby, as well getting to the root of the recent problems with drug abuse at Bath.
Cleaning up the game: The major players
RFU chairman who sits on the International Rugby Board, the sport's supreme body.
Twickenham's chief executive, known to be appalled by recent events
No stranger to rugby success. No stranger to rugby scandal, either.
Players' shop steward, their energetic defender.
Worcester's owner has played an important role in popularising the sport.
Chairman of London Irish, the coming force in Premiership rugby.
A senior judge and a fierce defender of rugby's "core values".
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