Thomas gets RFU apology

Union retracts two allegations contained in Blackett report

Last Updated: 03/09/12 7:34pm

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Martyn Thomas: former Rugby Football Union chairman and acting chief executive

Martyn Thomas: former Rugby Football Union chairman and acting chief executive

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The Rugby Football Union have issued an apology to former chairman and acting chief executive Martyn Thomas and withdrawn allegations that were published in a report into the firing of John Steele.

An investigation into Steele's exit as chief executive in 2011, led by the union's disciplinary officer Judge Jeff Blackett, criticised Thomas' conduct.

Thomas was accused in the 53-page report of having "inappropriate contact" with one of the candidates for the role of RFU performance director and of leaking information to the press.

But a subsequent independent report compiled in November last year by Charles Flint QC concluded there was "no solid evidence" to support misconduct charges against Thomas.

The RFU issued a public apology to Thomas on Monday and retracted two specific allegations contained within the Blackett report.

Statement

A statement from the union read: "Following the departure of John Steele on June 9, 2011, the RFU council set up a review to examine the events that led to his departure and further to consider how and why confidential information was leaked to the media and to see what lessons could be learned.

"The report made a number of conclusions. Amongst these it concluded that Martyn Thomas, the then chairman and acting chief executive:

"(i) had inadvertently, but improperly and repeatedly passed confidential information in relation to the RFU either directly or indirectly through third parties to members of the media;

"(ii) had inappropriate contact with one of the candidates for the role of RFU Performance Director and breached confidentiality between prospective job applicants.

"The RFU now accepts that there was insufficient evidence to support these conclusions. Consequently, the RFU believes it right that these conclusions be withdrawn.

"The RFU therefore apologises to Martyn Thomas."

The Blackett report was eventually sent to member clubs in September last year after Thomas had initially succeeded in blocking its publication by threatening to sue for defamation during an RFU council meeting.

That threat remained live once Thomas had been cleared by the Flint report. The RFU council members were told by email in May that Thomas may issue a defamation writ.

Solution

It is understood that, on taking office in February, the RFU's chief executive Ian Ritchie was determined to broker a solution to ensure the situation never reached the courts.

The RFU's apology will shine the spotlight back on Blackett, who was engaged by the council to look into the fractious circumstances surrounding Steele's departure.

Blackett chaired a five-man panel that included RFU council members Geraint Ashton Jones and Malcolm Wharton, plus independents Andy Reed and Vick Luck.

The report recommended that Thomas and the whole RFU board, apart from co-opted member Bill Beaumont, should all resign.

The panel reached their conclusions based on evidence, compiled by interview, written submission or both, from 65 witnesses on a confidential basis.

Blackett had indicated to the RFU council that he had enough to bring disciplinary charges against Thomas.

But Flint was unable to review all the evidence because 19 of those witnesses, including five directors, refused to allow their evidence to be disclosed.

Thomas left the RFU at the end of November last year after being cleared by the Flint report and he called for Blackett, Ashton and Wharton to resign.

Blackett retains support among RFU council members, who in April rejected a board proposal that Blackett should lose his position as part of a structural overhaul.

Blackett will remain in charge of the union's judicial system until next year's AGM.

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