Tom English: Big stick to stir murky waters at Rangers needed urgently

Lord Hodge had 'insufficient' legal information to make ruling. Picture: SNS
Lord Hodge had 'insufficient' legal information to make ruling. Picture: SNS
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THE days tick by and the madness continues, the hype and the hoopla, the facts and the fiction. Just what is going on with the SPL investigation into double contracts, side letters and all the rest of the tax schemes at Rangers going back to the 1990s?

We have said in this space many times before that there is only one way to get to the heart of all that went on at Ibrox in the disputed “wee” and “not so wee” tax case years of 1999-2010 and that is through an independent inquiry, a commission with all the clout and respect of the SFA’s own recent inquiry that did for Craig Whyte, headed by Lord Nimmo Smith.

Pat Fenlon: no pushover but needs Griffiths. Picture: SNS

Pat Fenlon: no pushover but needs Griffiths. Picture: SNS

So clouded are the issues that full disclosure is required.

All Rangers directors in this period need to be interviewed, all Rangers managers if required and some Rangers players and agents, too. At the end of it there needs to be clarity – or as much clarity that satisfies most sane people.

Some, of course, will never be convinced of the findings even if God himself chaired the investigation and the four apostles sat on the board.

The feeling is that nothing is happening in the SPL and that breeds suspicion. You hear talk that Neil Doncaster, the chief executive, is on holiday and that provokes fury among groups of Celtic people who want this investigation completed yesterday. Judging by correspondence, many of them are sold on Rangers’ guilt already. They interpret Rangers’ concession in the “wee tax case” as proof that they broke the SFA’s own rules and want them punished. They are utterly convinced that Rangers, for many years, cheated the taxman, the footballing authorities and the game as a whole. People are having their reputations challenged.

Gordon Smith: pleaded ignorance to Whyte's dealings. Picture: SNS

Gordon Smith: pleaded ignorance to Whyte's dealings. Picture: SNS

The flipside is that Rangers, through Sir David Murray and various players from that era, say that no double contracts were ever issued. They are utterly categorical. One side is as convinced as the other in their own position, so where do you go?

To Iain Blair, operations director of the SPL. Is the league dragging its feet? Are they going to bottle the investigation? Who is orchestrating it and what have they found? “Under the rules of the SPL, Rangers are duty bound to supply us with the information we are looking for,” he says.

“Rangers have a responsibility to act in the utmost good faith, so I do fully expect them to give us the information, but we haven’t had it so far. In all fairness, with the administrators being there they have other priorities at the moment with court appearances and talks with potential purchasers and the rest of it, but they are working with us and there has been no lack of co-operation. We do expect the information shortly.”

Glasgow solicitors Harper Macleod are acting for the SPL in the first instance. They are dealing with Rangers and asking for documents, putting things together to bring before the SPL board. It’s a reasonable start, but the independence of the investigation needs to continue. There is a tremendous amount of noise out there about rules breaches surrounding the “wee” and the “big” tax cases and it’s not all coming from crackpots and conspiracy theorists on the internet. These allegations demand a proper investigation. It needs to get to the heart of what went on, no matter how long it takes. It needs to have the authority of a Lord Nimmo Smith heading it, a man whose word carries weight across all divides.

“I think there is an understanding of the potential seriousness of the situation,” says Blair, when asked about the perception of a whitewash. “One of the options available to us is to deal with any disciplinary process through an independent commission. I’m not prejudging what the board would do but it wouldn’t surprise if they did go down that route.

“The board will determine whether the information supplied represents a prima facie case of rules breach and if they do come to that decision then they have three choices how to prosecute. They can deal with it themselves in a board hearing, they can delegate it to a sub-committee of the board or the third option is to establish an independent commission.”

The board, of course, is a six-man deal including four clubs (Celtic, Dundee United, Motherwell and St Johnstone) as well as Ralph Topping as chairman and Doncaster as chief executive. A simple majority will turn an internal SPL investigation into a fully independent inquiry.

“We’re asking for a lot of comprehensive information to be pulled together by Rangers over an extended period of time going to back to 1998 (the foundation of the SPL),” says Blair. “That’s not an insignificant task and it can’t be done lightly.

“The administrators, who are effectively the executive at Rangers, have a number of priorities at the moment and we understand that. If there was a continuing delay that that is something our board might be concerned about, but I don’t think we’re at that point at this stage.”

At least it appears to be moving forward, under many, many watchful eyes.

Trouble or not, Fenlon needs irascible Griffiths

Pat Fenlon doesn’t need any reminding about the importance of Leigh Griffiths to Hibs’ battle for survival in the SPL – and he certainly doesn’t need it rammed in his face.

The claim of Griffiths’ alleged head-butting of his manager as well as an alleged punching of his assistant manager, Billy Brown, is strongly denied by the club, but one thing is for sure: Fenlon’s managerial skills are being tested to the full by the irascible striker.

Fenlon is not a pushover. He has earned a reputation in Ireland as a tough customer who doesn’t easily suffer the kind of petulance that Griffiths has displayed this season. Even if you discount whatever went on in training the other day, the on-loan player from Wolves has repeatedly ignored his manager’s advice about on-field discipline. If Hibs were comfortable in the SPL, instead of scraping to stay in it, Fenlon might well have jettisoned Griffiths after his first, second or third bout of gesturing to supporters.

As it was, he was forced to be pragmatic. Good managers have to do things they don’t want to do sometimes – and this was probably an example of it. Fenlon’s job is to keep Hibs in the SPL and he has a better chance of doing that with Griffiths than without. Already, the striker has scored the decisive goal in league games against St Mirren and Dunfermline and his goal also won a point against Kilmarnock.

That’s seven points he has been worth to them so far. He has nine goals in 28 games and regardless of whether he was out of line at training or not, Fenlon needs that kind of firepower, particularly if Dunfermline are to experience a bounce after the appointment of Jim Jefferies.

Managers have to manage difficult situations, but ultimately they must get results. If Fenlon has decided, in the short-term, to excuse yet another example of his striker’s worrying combustibility, then it’s understandable. That’s not to say, though, that once the season is over he won’t post-date his punishment and kick Griffiths all the way back to Wolves.

There’s no case for Smith’s ‘I didn’t know’ defence

Monday night would not have been the first time that Gordon Smith took the microphone and, metaphorically, hit himself over the head with it, but his performance in the final minutes of a Radio 5 Live debate on the crisis at Rangers was bizarre none the less.

Quizzed by the BBC’s excellent investigative reporter Mark Daly about why he didn’t speak out against Craig Whyte, the former director of football at Ibrox went for a line of defence that was hard to fathom. “I didn’t know,” he said, repeatedly.

Smith didn’t know a lot of things, but the time came when he should have known it all. How is it possible that he still didn’t know what was going on when Whyte was exposed, indisputably, as a liar on the Ticketus deal, his face splashed across every newspaper while headlining every news bulletin on radio and television? Smith carried on regardless in the Whyte regime and only departed when he was made redundant by the administrators.

How he must wish now that he resigned on a point of principle on the day the Ticketus deal blew up in Whyte’s face. But, then, he didn’t know, did he?