“Madness breeds Madness”

Firstly allow me to clarify something – the content of this blog and the information shared is done so with the express permission of the Union of Fans – following a full and frank discussion between myself and Chris Graham. Those who are interested in the finer details and legal aspects of the Season Ticket Trust are probably going to be disappointed; any queries you have will have to wait until the ST Trust website is up and operational.
What I did ask however was this:

If the board acquiesce to UOF demands who will then hold first charge/security on the stadium rights to our club ? The answer, as many undoubtedly suspected, is Dave King and Richard Gough, under the auspice of Dave King’s new company, Ibrox 1972 Ltd.

Quite simply as far as The UOF are concerned it all boils down to a question of trust, and they trust King more, far more, than they do the current board. It is all hypothetical of course, dependent on their scheme being successful, the Rangers board acquiescing to their demands and relinquishing the security for both stadium and Auchenhowie.

Many will have realised by now this would mean handing over the security of our club’s 2 biggest assets to 2 men who currently are not even shareholders in our club. They will not be accountable to the board or to shareholders, which at least in theory, is the current status quo.

I hope for the sake of our club, should this scenario ever come to fruition, that the UOF have exercised sound judgement in their assessment of Dave King, otherwise it will qualify as a blunder on a scale of magnitude with the ill-fated Men of Troy.

As the current board and King, with their respective aide-de-camps, battle vigorously for not only our hearts and minds, but also our season ticket monies, the whole debate has become extremely polarised, the language and tone war like, with little opportunity for either constructive or conciliatory dialogue. The problem is however that the dominant voices in the debate do not necessarily reflect the feelings of our support.

Keith Jackson touched on this last week in an article when he referred to the silent majority of the Rangers support – the ones who have no interest in off-field politics and whose sole interest is turning up each week to see the Rangers. Furthermore the polarisation of the situation and debate fails to take cognisance of fans who have no confidence in the current board but who are equally unenamoured by Dave King. Rather than choose between the two best prospective candidates it is more akin to choosing the lesser of 2 evils. A particularly sad indictment of where we currently are as a club.

To date, the considerable failings of governance by our current board which I highlighted in a previous blog, remain unresolved. In particular the veracity of the 120 day review remains under question as a consequence of claims by the Daily Record regarding the withdrawal of credit and debit card provision. Before we file these claims as the ranting of a “Rangers hating rhag” perhaps we should check the filing cabinet – look under “BBC & Craig Whyte”. I can only re-iterate the warning of a previous blog – we cannot afford to make the same mistakes of the past.

A few have commented on the madness of the situation facing us as a support. With trepidation, and a tinge of embarrassment, I quote from Dan Brown’s book Inferno, “Madness breeds madness”

The Rangers support should bookmark this moment in time, with its paucity of choice, for a future date, when next we sit down with any conviction to consider the merits of fan ownership.

 

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Dragonslayers Required – Apply within

“HMRC don’t respond to speculation about alleged breaches of confidentiality”. How many thousands of us have received this, or a similarly worded response from HMRC ? Or for those of us who have pressed MP’s for an answer the appropriately named Ministerial Correspondence Unit of HMRC ?

Some of you older Bears will remember how the producers of the American TV soap Dallas, wrote off the events of a whole series by suggesting one of the characters had merely dreamt it all. That’s fine – perhaps I will awaken tomorrow morning to find the Rangers Tax Case Blog never existed or “The Men Who Sold The Jersey’s” BBC Scotland documentary was just a nightmare. But of course they aren’t just figments of a bad dream, they are every bit as real as the leaked confidential information which gave the foregoing blog and documentary a modicum of credibility. There is no “speculation” about it, nor is it an “alleged breach of confidentiality”.

Those of you who have read Follow We Will, by The Rangers Standard, will be well aware of the considerable injustices foisted upon our club and will be familiar with the damaging press articles written at the time of our fall. These happened, not simply because a charlatan had managed to gain effective control of our club and run it into the ground; it was because those dispensing injustice or penning scathing articles were doing so because they had bought into the lie that Rangers had indulged in “years of cheating”. That erroneous supposition was as a consequence of not just leaks and breaches of confidentiality, but the further subsequent manipulation of that obtained information. I remain convinced to this day that the SPL vote not to re-admit Rangers into the SPL was based on a presumption of guilt over EBT’s rather than anything else.

“If you wanted to know the latest news on their tax travails, rangerstaxcase was a place you went because, unlike newspapers or radio stations, rangerstaxcase was connected to the heart of the FTT and everybody knew it.

It had documents and detail that were beyond dispute. When illustrating one point it was making it would summon up information that could only have come from somebody within, or very close to, the tribunal”

(Tom English – The Scotsman 25.11.2012)

I had originally written to HMRC as part of an ongoing process of elimination; expecting them to assert that they had cross referenced the documents and evidence they had seized and undoubtedly catalogued, and were satisfied that the leaked confidential information appearing in the public domain had not come from themselves. Their response, as per the opening paragraph, not only astonished me, it also suggested to me something was clearly not right. However after numerous exchanges of correspondence it became clear neither HMRC, nor government ministers at the Treasury with ministerial responsibility for HMRC, were going to deviate from the clearly well rehearsed, but nonetheless erroneous “speculation” and “alleged” generic reply.

At this point it’s is perhaps worthy of a short re-cap. Confidential information regarding Rangers tax dealings was appearing almost daily on a web blog and had already been subject of a documentary produced by our national broadcaster. The revelations by both the foregoing was to earn them awards in their respective fields. Whilst all this was happening the Investigative Agency responsible for collecting and securing evidence and information in the Rangers Tax Case was referring to breaches of confidentiality using terminology such as “speculation” and “alleged”

Then the unthinkable happened – the experts sitting at the First Tier Tax Tribunal disagreed with Graham “Selective Amnesia” Spiers and all the other “internet and Scottish media tax experts” in declaring Rangers not guilty. This result was to prove the catalyst for the emergence of Professor Peter Watson of legal firm Levy & McRae, who announced on 27.11.2012 that he had written to Crown Office on behalf of Sir David Murray, asking them to launch a criminal investigation into such leaks.

The only problem was that we heard nothing more on this, nor in fact was it even confirmed if Crown Office had indeed launched a criminal investigation. Consequently I raised my own criminal complaint in respect of the various breaches of confidentiality, in my capacity as a shareholder of Rangers oldco. In due course I received a letter from Ruaraidh Nicolson, Assistant Chief Constable Strathclyde Police, who confirmed the matter was already subject of an ongoing Police investigation. I presume this is as a consequence of Professor Watson’s complaint although this has never been confirmed – but confirming the investigation was ongoing was my priority not who had made the complaint.

At this point I decided to test the water again with HMRC. Only this time I decided to do so with some political clout. Two options were available to me, my MSP or my MP. The latter, Jim McGovern, Scottish Labour, was the only Scottish member of Parliament to sign George Galloway’s Early Day Motion 913 – accusing our club of using insolvency law to avoid paying tax – a subject he and I had a fairly acrimonious exchange of letters with regard to.

I therefore opted to engage the services of my local MSP – Joe Fitzpatrick SNP. But before I managed to meet Mr Fitzpatrick an event occurred which was to prove to be a significant “game changer”

If words speak to you then the ones I was reviewing on my computer monitor were positively screaming at me. People speak of that “Boom – Headshot” moment, well this was one of them.

Furthermore the author, as well as the context left no doubt whatsoever as to the absolute veracity of the narration. I was reading Section 98 of Lord Nimmo Smith’s summary of the SPL Independent Commission Enquiry:-
“Meanwhile, BBC Scotland came, by unknown means, into possession of what they described as “dozens of secret emails, letters and documents”, which we understand were the productions before the Tax Tribunal. These formed the basis of a programme entitled “Rangers – The Men Who Sold the Jerseys”, which was broadcast on 23 May 2012. BBC Scotland also published copious material on its website. The published material included a table containing the names of Rangers players, coaches and staff who were beneficiaries of the MGMRT, and how much they received through that trust.”

For those who are unfamiliar with legal jargon the word “productions” refer to evidence. It was simple enough to understand – a considerable volume of evidence had been stolen from The Rangers Tax case and passed on to BBC Scotland, and of course perhaps others. This stolen evidence then became the research material and driving force for the documentary “The Men Who Sold The Jerseys”.

So why is Section 98 of Lord Nimmo Smith’s Report such a significant game changer ?

Well it establishes that the material utilised in the BBC Documentary, and published on the BBC Website (and possibly utilised elsewhere) – originated from material seized by, and in the care of HMRC who, as the investigatory agency, were ultimately responsible for these “productions”, irrespective of who had custody, charge or care of these documents at the time of the theft.

You will recall in my last article I highlighted how hundreds of Rangers shareholders writing to HMRC to complain about these breaches of confidentiality were subjected to a standard response of “HMRC do not comment on speculation about alleged breaches of confidentiality.”

Lord Nimmo Smith’s report completely destroys and usurps that HMRC generic response, and serves to confirm it was neither speculation nor alleged breaches of confidentiality.

The consequence of this is that HMRC have some considerable explaining to do to the Rangers supporters who highlighted these breaches of confidentiality, as HMRC’s assertion of it being “speculation and allegation” is not consistent with the facts and circumstances alluded to by Lord Nimmo Smith.

Either the security surrounding the evidence was so inept, so poor, that it was compromised on numerous occasions, or in one “grand heist” allowing the perpetrators to not only supply BBC Scotland with stolen evidence, but also other outlets such as The Rangers Tax Case Blog which, almost on a daily basis managed to produce documentation relating to Rangers tax affairs. Are we honestly to believe that HMRC were unaware that such theft (s) of evidence occurred and furthermore due to incompetent management of their evidence they were unaware that “copious material” was being removed and passed on to others ?

It is worth remembering at this point that contained in HMRC’s own Charter, under the heading “What you can Expect From Us” is a commitment to “Protect your information and respect your privacy”

But this theory is not without considerable problems. It would mean that HMRC totally ignored the material being published by BBC Scotland and The Rangers Tax Case Blog, ignored the concerns of the many hundreds of Rangers shareholders who wrote complaining of the breaches of confidentiality – in short that they adopted a head in the sand mentality to reports of apparent breaches of confidentiality which were being flagged up to them.

Investigative Agencies seizing numerous items of documentary evidence, catalogue it for ease of reference – it would have been a simple task for HMRC to check the material appearing on the BBC Scotland and Rangers Tax Case Blog Websites by cross referencing it with their own catalogued evidence in order to establish if a problem existed.

Quite simply believing this theory requires us to accept a level of negligence and incompetence by HMRC which would in my opinion, be tantamount to criminal neglect.

A further possibility is equally unpalatable however – quite simply that HMRC were aware of the breaches of confidentiality and the theft of evidence, but for reasons best known to themselves, decided to deliberately mislead and misdirect the complaints from Rangers shareholders with their generic “speculation and allegation” rebuttal, perhaps in the hope that it would all blow over and in time interest would wane.

During the course of this sojourn I have received confirmation that the ongoing Police enquiry into the Breaches of Confidentiality in the Rangers Tax Case is as a consequence of the complaint raised by Lord Peter Watson on behalf of Sir David Murray. It is significant that this complaint was raised after the conclusion of the first tier tax tribunal. Which begs the question why HMRC had not raised a similar complaint earlier? Is it really acceptable that in the highest profile tax case ever seen in Scotland, the Investigative Agency, HMRC, had the evidence stolen and they failed to report this theft to the Police for investigation – despite it appearing on National Media outlets as well as anonymous web blogs ?

I am currently awaiting a response from HMRC to several Freedom of Information Requests served upon them via my solicitor. I am of the opinion that as well as failing to deliver upon their own charter, the subsequent response from them, if provided, will confirm they have also failed to uphold their own operational guidelines with regard to the loss of evidence in the Rangers Tax Case.

Given the level of inconsistency, ambiguity and possible misleading of the public, I think it is high time that the investigators themselves were subject to investigation.

Let us all push for the Government Enquiry, both our club and our support deserve.

Fool me once…

I’m going to start this blog with a warning – We must ensure, for the future of our club, that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

I say that because it is important we focus on the facts and not the personalities involved. There is a considerable amount of information circulating at the moment and it’s vital we scrutinise it in a totally objective manner. Not only because it is the right thing to do – but because the future of our club may depend on our ability to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The Union of Fans only have themselves to blame to an extent, that their anti-board message has not been widely accepted by all. Their insistence on being so deliberately confrontational with our current board, as well as their sometimes puerile rhetoric, may go down well with those already in their camp but it doesn’t necessarily resonate with all the support. As I’ve written previously, when the man you are openly supporting suggests some are “looking for a fight” it’s surely worthy of re-assessing how you are coming across to people.

It’s a real pity the debate has become so polarised. There is almost a sense that you are either pro or anti-board. I’m aware of a supporter yesterday who was threatened for refusing to chant “sack the board”. – a sad indication of the state of play. The reality of course is that for every pro or anti board supporter there are probably many more of us who are utterly confused, worried and trying to get to grips with facts amongst a deluge of propaganda.

It’s important that those in our support who are against Dave King, for whatever reason, still realise they have a responsibility in holding the current board to account, and reticence of the possible alternative does not mean we ignore unacceptable standards from those currently in power.

And just why should our current board be viewed with suspicion and be subject to challenge ?

Well for starters we have employed a new PR Guru. Such an appointment baffled many within our support, particularly with the crying need for a chief scout. One is left to ponder what our board’s priorities are for our club.

We have a non-executive director, Sandy Easdale giving interviews to the BBC where he suggests intimate knowledge of financial matters pertaining to the club. This should raise serious questions about the level of governance at boardroom level.

From the CEO’s review we have learned that contracts were signed off by the previous board without any legal representation on behalf of the club. Quite simply that is nothing short of scandalous. Do the current board intend to investigate these matters and retrospectively pursue those responsible ?

As many us are learning to our angst, the ability to renew season tickets by Credit or Debit Card is no longer available due to the merchant, 1st Data, requiring what is viewed as an unreasonable level of security for such a privilege. The CEO’s review states :

“The Board believes that one of the major factors influencing the merchant acquirer to change its terms was the extensive negative coverage of calls in some quarters for supporters to refrain or delay purchasing season tickets. ”

The Union of Fans have denied this and their denials have been supported by a National newspaper which claims it has viewed correspondence which suggests this is not the reason for the increased levels of guarantee.

The ball is now in the board’s court. The integrity and veracity of both the board and the review has been challenged by a national newspaper – it is up to the board to instruct 1st Data to clarify the reasons behind the additional security requests. Quite simply if the board fail to take action over such a critical point then they have failed both themselves and the Rangers supporters who were patient enough to wait for the 120 day review.

We must not let personal feelings or personal dislikes affect our ability to exercise vigilance or judgement.

It’s a luxury not only we cannot afford, but more importantly, our club cannot afford.

Red Hands Red Poppies Red Flags

She was just a slip of a girl, perhaps 6 or 7 at most. Her starched white blouse with its razor like creases, complimented the perfectly pleated grey school skirt and black shoes, the latter having been cleaned to a standard which afforded a mirror like reflection. She was almost dwarfed by the large wreath she bore, lilies and poppies interlaced by a florist who was quite clearly at the very top of her game. The little girl would soon be relieved of her floral burden as she laid it in accordance with the instructions her mother had given. Her mind turned to the great great grandfather she had heard of only in story, who fell at a place called Thiepval , and an elder brother she would never know, for he died just a few yards from where she currently stood. Across the street on a plain grey and white sign were the words “Omagh Shopping Centre”.

Sometimes the ordinary, the everyday, that which we take for granted, can in themselves be symbols of bravery when exercised elsewhere. Perhaps we should be grateful we live in communities which make no such demands of us.

The recent confiscation of a Red Hand Flag from a Northern Irish Rangers supporter entering Ibrox, and the subsequent furore it caused, only served to emphasise how raw the subject of Ulster remains within the Rangers support. With a significant number of Ulstermen contributing to the Rangers support such rawness should come as no surprise, notwithstanding the shared heritage, faith and history and language between Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Those with longer memories will remember the airbrushing of picture to erase the Red Hand Flag from a Rangers photograph as well as the censure of Zoe Salmon on BBC’s Blue Peter for having the temerity to say “’I’m from Ulster and I’d like to cover a plane with the Red Hand Of Ulster” when explaining a British Airways “Best of British” logo competition.

The enemies of the Protestant/Unionist community in Ulster have sown their seeds of hatred well. And perhaps more significantly, continue to cultivate.

Of course in the broad church, or Rangers family, such sentiment or concern is not shared by all. There are those amongst our support who view the whole subject of Ulster and her trials and tribulations as “nothing to do with us”. Thankfully, a view not shared by the Ulstermen who laid down their lives to protect these shores in 2 world wars; or the generations from Northern Ireland who have supported this club overcoming significant logistical difficulties to follow follow. Nonetheless it does however remain a legitimate position to adopt.

But perhaps not without cost. Having no interest in the political or religious affairs of Ulster may well be proposed and argued as a reasonable viewpoint, particularly amongst an ever increasingly secular support, but does such disconnection and disassociation from the issues affecting a considerable section of our support usurp and weaken the notion of a “Rangers Family” ? Before anyone accuses me of waxing lyrical, many older bears will attest that years ago being part of the Rangers support had a sense of family at its beating heart.

It is a strange anomaly of life that one has to either step outside, or come from outside in order to effectively defend something, whether that be an organisation, an institution or a community of people.

Ruth Dudley Edwards did just that. The Dublin middle-class academic of Catholic background was given warts and all access to the Loyal Institutions in Northern Ireland. Her critically acclaimed book “The Faithful Tribe” not only gives intriguing insight to the loyal institutions themselves, but also wider aspects of community life in Northern Ireland. She completely destroys much of the Sinn Fein propaganda and exposes the true nature of the “residents groups” and their formation. The way she disarms the veiled threats against her for speaking the truth, is well worth the read itself.

I fully accept and understand that there will be those reading this who are genuinely struggling to understand the raw emotion Ulster generates amongst our support. I can only leave you with a signpost however – the words of the late Labour leader John Smith:

“These are my people, and I will never desert them”