Departing Harlequins chairman Charles Jillings' statement on blood scandal
Charles Jillings' statement
I am deeply concerned about the damaging implications of Tom Williams' witness statement released by the ERC Appeal Hearing. Due to the volume of public coverage I wish to put the events in context.
We, acknowledge that we failed to control Deans Richards. I trusted Dean. As a result of the Board's failure to exercise control, the Club cheated. This is totally unacceptable. The Board was unaware of these facts until Tom Williams came forward on Wednesday 29th July, after the initial ERC Hearing.
I returned from holiday on 3rd August to address the findings of the ERC hearing. However, I was faced with the full extent of the devastating revelation that we had cheated and lied in our statements. As a consequence had tendered his resignation. I was shocked. The situation was very complicated and raised a number of moral dilemmas for everybody involved. I advised the Board, that Harlequins would accept and publicly acknowledge the judgement and pay the record fine. We would not appeal.
In view of this, I sought to both address the wrongs and determine a way forward in an honest manner. Consequently we, the Club, accepted the judgement and the fine. The Board did not have a clear picture of all the issues, which included in particular, the imminent written judgement. During those four days, 3rd August until 7th August, I sought a solution, not a cover-up. I, and the Board, had been completely unaware of the cheating during the Heineken Cup Quarter Final game and lying subsequently.
Within this framework I met Tom Williams at the PRA, with Damian Hopley in attendance on Wednesday 5th August. In that meeting I apologised unreservedly and sincerely to Tom for the position he found himself in. I recognised his career had been disrupted because of the Club's failure to control, and that if his ban stood at 12 months then he would be in no position to negotiate a fair outcome on his contract going forward. The offer of compensation was for damage incurred and was not a bribe or threat to Tom Williams. 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 him 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 then advised Tom that he had to accept the judgement on the basis that he was guilty. I also said that I believed he should and must appeal. 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 Williams stated that he himself was considering all options. In response, I said that whatever route we went down there would be risks involved. If he went down a limited disclosure route it would involve risks for him and that the compensation package which I made clear was for the impact of events on his career and not on a reward basis, would protect him financially at least. Tom Williams' lawyer then advised that it would not be sensible to appeal the sanction if Tom could not divulge everything. This point was well made. On reflection over the next twenty-four hours I realised that I had possibly left Tom Williams unclear about my stance. This had never been my intention.
On Friday 7th August, Tom Williams, through his lawyer, put forward a proposal in writing not to appeal. However, in exchange, he was seeking a four-year contract at substantially higher levels, plus an exorbitant lump sum. This I found shocking, though at the time I felt that this was out of character for Tom and his arrival at such a decision reflected the stresses that everybody was under.
Matters were moving very quickly. On the same afternoon, Friday 7th August during a Board meeting, we agreed a revised compensation offer to Tom Williams for the impact that these events had had on his career. This offer was open for 21 days, and Tom accepted it by email at 10.13 am on Saturday 8th August. This offer had absolutely no conditions attached. In my opinion this protected Tom for the wrongs caused by the Club's failure to control; for whatever appeal decision he made and whatever the outcome was. In no way did this constitute a reward or an offer for his silence.
I then addressed the position of Dean Richards whose resignation was accepted. The resignation was announced by the Board on Saturday morning, 8th August.
Earlier the same morning, (at approximately 8am), Tom rang Mark Evans who passed the phone to me. Tom was enquiring whether or not Dean's resignation was in any way linked to any action that he might make. I assured him that they were completely separate issues. I also told Tom that we, Harlequins, would accept the judgement against Harlequins and the fine, as well as releasing the details of the incident to the ERC as we now understood them. If he did not wish to disclose the details then the Club would do so on his behalf. This was confirmed in an e-mail to the ERC at approximately 9.30am.
In view of this, I expected Tom to appeal and the Club would then be able to take the lead and support him in his appeal. I thought this was a fairer route as it would shield Tom from possible difficulties with the team or fan base. After all, he was a victim of the Club's failure to control Dean Richards and I have always maintained that position.
When Tom Williams' witness statement came out it was very detailed. It became clear in the Appeal Hearing that Tom's representatives had been in talks with the ERC for several days and that the content of our meetings were being disclosed to them. I am still disturbed by the implications of those discussions and their resultant conduct.
My position changed as the week wore on. Initially, I believed that a limited appeal was the right option. The ERC disciplinary regulations make explicit provision for it when appealing against a sanction, but by Friday 7th August, I was convinced that this was not the right way forward. At that evening's meeting, we expressly did not advise Tom to follow a particular disclosure route. The two elements which remained constant throughout were: that at no time did I ask Tom Williams to lie or to drop his appeal. For me this was and never had been an option.
I am clear in my own mind that in the end I arrived at the correct decision. 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. My intention was that he was compensated for the damage created by our failure to control. Under no circumstances was the financial proposal a reward for silence.
During this incident I have at all times tried to steer a path that was fair to the individuals concerned whilst acknowledging the Club's failings in this matter. For the record, since 3rd August when the revelation of lying and cheating was made known to me, the Board has conducted a complete review of the Club's practices including a wide-ranging investigation of the Club's structures and responsibilities. On 10th August, I appointed an independent person to chair these investigations in order to facilitate a greater level of disclosure. A key part of this investigation was the provision of a forum enabling the players to disclose unethical practices at Harlequins and in the game at large. The RFU has agreed immunity for information arising from this process in regard to gamesmanship in the game. We have provided a summary of our findings to the RFU and will continue to fully co-operate with them.
I am very conscious that these events may not look edifying or for that matter convincing to everybody on the outside.
As Chairman I am ultimately responsible for all decisions. I have passionately supported Harlequins' development over the last ten years and am proud of our progress. I have always endeavoured to be fair in life and to work for the common good. In seeking a solution for the numerous parties involved we may have been striving to achieve something that was impossible. Even now, I am concerned about the well-being of the individuals and families caught up in these unfortunate events. We have a fabulous group of players, staff, sponsors and fans. I believe it is of paramount importance that Harlequins, at the earliest and most opportune time, should draw a line and move forward. I apologise unreservedly to all our stakeholders for inadvertently compounding the issues. The escalation of these issues in the public domain needs, I believe, a clear response. In this context I have decided to resign as Chairman and Director. Ultimately this happened under my watch and the failure to control must fall at my door.
As always, I convey to Harlequins my best wishes and will continue to be a supportive investor.