Scottish Rugby’s review ‘not independent’ claims former international

Former Scottish rugby international David Johnston has questioned the independence of the SRU review. Picture: Jane Barlow
Former Scottish rugby international David Johnston has questioned the independence of the SRU review. Picture: Jane Barlow
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The SRU’s decision to bring in Norman Murray, the chairman of Scottish Ballet, to assist Sir Bill Gammell in its review of governance procedures, has been questioned by a former Scotland internationalist.

David Johnston, who won 27 caps between 1979 and 1986, expressed fresh doubt on the independence of the process by the addition of Murray, who was once chairman of Gammell’s firm Cairn Energy,

The governing body of rugby in Scotland has commissioned an independent review in the wake of losing an unfair dismissal tribunal against Keith Russell, the father of Scotland stand-off Finn Russell.

Russell senior was the SRU’s director of domestic of rugby when he was sacked in 2017 before going on to win his case in June of last year which is believed to have cost the union a six-figure sum in damages and legal costs.

Eyebrows were raised when Gammell, a former Scotland internationalist and friend of SRU chief executive Mark Dodson, was appointed earlier this month to conduct an “independent and wide-ranging” review into the union’s working practices. Dodson was heavily criticised by the judge at the Russell hearing.

“Norman and Bill are very close to each other and Bill is very close to the executive at Murrayfield so with the best will in the world they’re not independent,” said former Scotland centre Johnston, an Edinburgh lawyer who had a spell as assistant coach to the national team before being sacked in 1998.

“It’s as obvious as night and day. By no stretch of the imagination could you say that is an independent process.”

On two occasions Sir Bill, who is the founder of Cairn Energy plc of which Mr Murray has also been a chairman, declined to speak to The Scotsman about the matter.

An SRU statement said: “As previously communicated to clubs, Sir Bill Gammell has been commissioned by the Council and Board to conduct an independent review of all of Scottish Rugby’s corporate governance and business structures to ensure that they are fit for purpose to take account of the interests of all existing and future stakeholders in a modern rugby environment.

“The Council and Board have always remained committed to maintaining the highest possible standards of governance within Scottish Rugby, and the decision to conduct a governance review was originally endorsed by both bodies in September last year….

“Sir Bill Gammell will also be assisted in his review by Norman Murray. The [SRU] Council and Board consider that Sir Bill Gammell and Norman Murray’s combined extensive and high-profile experience in business, corporate governance and sport related matters make them ideally placed to conduct this significant piece of work at this time.”

Gammell, 66, won five caps on the wing for Scotland between 1977 and 1978.

Russell, the father of 44-times capped stand-off Finn who now plays for French giants Racing 92 in Paris, described the SRU as “toxic” after winning his case.

“Having done the job for just over two years, I was just kind of brought in and told that I was being dismissed,” Russell told the BBC.

“I was sacked summarily one day. The reason that came through at the tribunal was my performance.

“It was kind of vague opinions and views of both of them as opposed to myself where I was able to prove what we were doing in domestic rugby, very clearly, very accurately and demonstrating the progress we were making across all the targets that we had.”

The SRU powers apologised at last summer’s AGM to member clubs and admitted the Russell case had left a “dark cloud”.

A joint statement from the Scottish Rugby Council and Board, following the Russell judgment last June said: “We acknowledge the findings of the recent employment tribunal. Both Board and Council believe the terms and outcome of the judgment require further and important consideration.”

Yesterday’s SRU statement continued: “Sir Bill Gammell will report back to the Council’s Standing Committee on Governance (independently chaired by Gavin MacColl QC) over the coming months. That Committee will then consider any recommendations arising, for onward submission to the Council and Board as appropriate.”

The union said the “scope” of the “Independent Corporate Governance and Business Review” would be to to review existing governance structures, to “review and consider the roles, responsibilities and structural composition of the Scottish Rugby Union Limited (the “Company”), the Board of the Company (the “Board”) and the Non-Executive Directors of the Board...

“To review and consider the roles, responsibilities and structural composition of the Scottish Rugby Council and Council members;

to review and consider the Bye-Laws of the Union…

“To review and consider the Articles of Association of the Company;

to review and consider the roles and responsibilities of the offices of Chairman of the Board, the President of the Union, and the Vice-President of the Union.”

Mr Murray was chairman of spirits company the Edrington Group whose brands include Macallan, Highland Park and Famous Grouse whiskies. He was chairman of the oil services company Petrofac Limited, and of the oil exploration and production company Cairn Energy plc, which was founded by Gammell.

Meanwhile, the SRU are due to announce “a new global blue-chip sponsor” at BT Murrayfield today.