BST: Another sad precedent set

Tim Fielding
Tim Fielding
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Blackpool Supporters’ Trust write for The Gazette about their dismay at recent legal action against fans.

The recent spate of legal cases for defamation that the Oystons have brought against fans has set yet another unhappy precedent for Blackpool Football Club. Such proceedings only confirm the deteriorating state of relations between the owners and many of the club’s most loyal and passionate supporters.

In defamation law, the burden of proof lies with the individual making the statement. That seems fair – if you make a statement, it should then be your responsibility to prove it. However, there is no legal aid applicable in these cases and the costs mount very quickly. Any fan choosing to defend a defamation claim can soon incur costs of as much as £10,000 even before reaching the High Court. It is reasonable to assume that financial and/or professional ruin would dissuade most people from attempting to prove the truth of some comment that they made on an internet message board – hence the out of court settlements in recent weeks.

The printing of public apologies from at least two of those involved, including the Trust’s former chairman, Tim Fielding, has led to further questions and even greater unhappiness among fans.

There is no doubt that some fans have written things that cannot be supported and that any reasonable person would object to. However, the vast majority of those involved have simply questioned the truth of various statements that the owners have made.

Blackpool Supporters’ Trust requests that the Oystons should reconsider their strategy. They could choose to take a different approach in their relationship with critical supporters. They could cease to prosecute anyone who has perhaps been overenthusiastic or mistaken in the language they have used.

It is clear that the truth is important to the Oystons. More transparency is desirable and opening up the books to an independent group of forensic accountants might be a constructive step. The results of such an investigation could be made public to allay any concerns supporters might have about what monies have been invested in the club and how they have been managed.

In the meantime, there are supporters who have incurred considerable costs as a result of the cases brought against them, costs that leave them financially compromised. If you are able even in a small way to contribute any assistance to your fellow supporters, a fund has been set up – justice4fans – administered by an independent panel with strict rules for assessing applications and distributing support, to ensure that the most deserving individuals benefit most from the fund. Contributions to this fund can be made via PayPal to: justice4fans@outlook.com