Blackpool FC majority owner denies claims over identity of female dinner guest

Owen Oyston
Owen Oyston

Blackpool FC majority shareholder Owen Oyston has denied seeking to protect himself by hiding the identity of a female guest at a dinner where he says "death threats" were made.

Under cross-examination at London's High Court, it was suggested to Mr Oyston that he was keeping the woman's name a secret because she would not "lie for him" and support his allegations that club president Valeri Belokon made the "traumatic" threats in a drink-fuelled clash over Blackpool Football club's future.

Rejecting the accusation, Mr Oyston said he was seeking to protect the woman, who was the only other person at the dinner at a top hotel.

He told a judge he wanted to prevent the media "descending upon her", saying her "life would never be the same again".

He added: "I know how distressing that is. I would not wish it on my worst enemy."

Andrew Green QC, cross-examining him on behalf of Mr Belokon, assured Mr Oyston: "I am perfectly happy not to press for her name so as to save her blushes."

Mr Oyston thanked him, and then Mr Green suggested: "You have hidden her identity because she would not lie for you."

Mr Oyston said that was "absolutely untrue" and someone could independently contact her if that was necessary.

Mr Green said: "An offer like that from the witness box is not one anyone can take up."

Mr Oyston had previously told the court the threats were made as an "agitated and resentful" Mr Belokon drank heavily during the dinner at Claridges Hotel in London after Blackpool's promotion to the Premier League in 2010.

He said the threats were made after he rejected the Latvian millionaire's demand for equal shares in the club.

He said Mr Belokon had told him that he would be "dead in 12 months" and his son Karl, chairman of the club, "dead within two years".

Mr Oyston denied Mr Green's accusations that the threats were "concocted".

He also denied that Mr Belokon had put money into the club on the understanding that his investment would be converted into shares and the club would be run by "the Oystons and the Belokons".

Mr Belokon is accusing the Oystons of improperly extracting millions of pounds from club funds following the Seasiders' cash-rich promotion to the Premier League.

Acting through his company VB Football Assets, he is seeking a ruling that the Oystons and their family-controlled companies are guilty of "unfair prejudice" against other shareholders.

Mr Belokon's lawyers say the family have alienated and angered fans by using the club as their "personal cash machine", and the death threat allegations are a bid to tarnish Mr Belokon's reputation as he challenges their activities in court.

Mr Oyston has alleged in court that Mr Belokon, who purchased a 20% shareholding in 2006, made a decision in 2011 to "exit the club and prepare for legal action" after his bid to acquire a 50% share failed, and nothing came of attempts to approve other financial arrangements.

Mr Belokon proposed in 2013 that the board should "buy him out for an exorbitant £24.15 million", said Mr Oyston.

On the third day of his cross-examination on Friday, Mr Oyston said he believed Mr Belokon had "spread poison" against his family and tipped off the media that £11 million from the club had been paid to a company controlled by him as it faced relegation after a single season in the Premier League.

Mr Oyston said newspaper reports condemning his "shocking" behaviour were "untrue and biased", and he had offered "to put the £11 million straight back", but that was not reported at all.

Mr Oyston said if the media knew "the full facts", they would not be shocked by his behaviour.

For decades, he had poured "millions and millions of pounds" into the club for no return and saved it from going out of existence.

But he agreed in cross-examination that the Oyston family's relationship with fans was not harmonious and the chant of "Oyston out" was in use before Mr Belokon came to Bloomfield Road.

Blackpool were relegated at the end of the 2010/11 season from the Premier League to the Championship and ended up in League 2, the fourth and bottom league of English professional football.

They recently gained promotion back to League 1.

Earlier in the hearing, Mr Green said, during its decline, more than £29 million was paid out of the club to Blackpool FC (Properties) Ltd, a company with family links formerly known as Segesta, and in 2012 an £11 million "directors' emolument" was paid to Zabaxe Ltd, another Oyston company.

The hearing continues on Monday.