Mercer's son blasts handling of Craig Thomson affair

THE son of former Hearts chief Wallace Mercer has launched a scathing attack on the handling of the Craig Thomson affair as the saga continues to make headlines around the world.

• Iain Mercer, top right, says his father, Wallace, below, would have dealt with the crisis better than Vladimir Romanov

Iain Mercer condemned the Romanov regime for tarnishing the club's reputation abroad by failing to cut ties with the 20-year-old player immediately after he was placed on the sex offenders register for preying on underage girls over the internet.

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The player was fined 4000 and will remain on the register for five years for engaging in sexual conversations with two girls, aged 12 and 14.

Hearts initially vowed to keep the player before a statement was issued yesterday revealing he had been suspended. The club is now to hold a disciplinary meeting within the next 48 hours to decide the future of the convicted sex offender, and he could be sacked as early as today, it has been reported. Sources reportedly said Thomson would almost certainly be sacked and it is understood he is unlikely to be picked to represent Scotland again.

In an exclusive interview with the Evening News, Mr Mercer said: "I think the time to act decisively was a week ago when the player was first brought before the disciplinary committee. This has very quickly escalated to the top of the news agenda on a national basis. How often do we see a club outwith the Old Firm being talked about on the 10 o'Clock News on the BBC? The sad thing is it's for all the wrong reasons.

"Without question the player should have had his contract terminated. I don't want to comment on the actions of the player but I think the reputation of the club is being badly damaged nationally and abroad.

"If the club didn't think there would be a backlash from the sponsors then they're being naive. Sponsors don't want to be associated with this."

Mr Mercer added that manager Jim Jeffries had been put in a "very difficult position".

He added: "My father was well aware that the football club, the Hearts family, is based on strong morals and values, and I've no doubt he would have acted decisively to deal with this issue."

Mr Mercer's voice has joined growing calls for Thomson's exit as former Hearts defender Alan McLaren revealed he hoped the 20-year-old had played his last game for the club and First Minister Alex Salmond said it was the "right decision" to suspend him.

Mr McLaren said: "You feel for him (Thomson], he has done something wrong and he has to accept responsibility for it. But hopefully he will not pull a Hearts shirt on again.

"It will stay with him, it's not something he can shrug off, be it in this country or another."

Today the mother of one of Thomson's victims said he should have been kicked out of the club immediately and that it should not have taken a backlash for the club to act.

She said: "It's about time they took action. In any other job Thomson would have been sacked."

Responding to the latest statement from Hearts, Anne Houston, chief executive of CHILDREN 1ST, said: "We would maintain that there is no place in our society for public role models who have been convicted of sexual offences against children, no matter what other talents they have."