Jubilant scenes as Oystons drop fan defamation case
These were the jubilant scenes as a Blackpool FC fan emerged victorious from a court case brought against him by the club's owners for libel.
Karl and Owen Oyston planned to sue Jeremy Smith, a local businessman over his part in a fans’ protest at Bloomfield Road during Pool’s Championship match against Cardiff City on October 2014 year, as supporters staged a walk-out in the 53rd minute.
But judge Justice King, sitting at Liverpool’s Family and Civil Court, accepted the Oystons submission to discontinue the proceedings.
Jeremy, who works for Karl Smith Car Sales in Blackpool, had the civil case brought against him after he was pictured holding up a doctored Gazette front page on Owen Oyston, with the headline: WE ARE NOT THIEVES - with the word ‘NOT’ scribbled out.
Mr Smith, who attended the game with his wife and friends, said he had been asked to hold the page up.
A group of outraged fans, who turned up in Liverpool to support Mr Smith – many wearing the clubs colours – cheered and gave a round of applause as the judge left the room.
Representatives of Blackpool Supporters’ Trust were also present, as well as some fans who had a previous similar situation with the owners.
The latest twist in the on-going saga at Bloomfield Road comes after a number of other fans reached out-of-court settlements and apologised to the club and the Oystons over alleged defamatory comments made about them.
Many Blackpool fans are boycotting games at the moment because they’re not happy with the Oyston’s ownership of the club, linked to the team suffering two successive relegations.
Legal papers served to Mr Smith highlighted the media coverage after he was pictured at the home game against Cardiff, on October 3.
A television broadcaster showed footage, which was later printed in a national newspaper, of Mr Smith holding up the Gazette front page with part of the headline redacted.
The legal papers, which set out the details of the Oystons’ claim, said Mr Smith’s actions “caused or were likely to cause serious harm to the personal and professional reputations” of both men.
The original story had focused on Owen Oyston’s statements in the face of long-standing questions over the use of money the club made on the back of Pool’s promotion to the Premier League.
The Oystons have always denied some of the £90m windfall was “misappropriated” and maintain the cash was used properly to support the club and pay off its debts, pointing to the club’s healthy financial position.
The Oyston’s barrister, Eric Shannon, was in the heated courtroom, but the Oystons were not present.
He said: “The claimants discontinue their claim against the defendant and there is an order for payment of his costs to be the subject of detailed assessments.”
In a media statement the club said: “Following lengthy discussions between majority shareholder Owen Oyston and Chairman Karl Oyston, it has been agreed that to continue a case against supporter Jeremy Smith is not in the best interests of the club or wider support base.
“The club has been encouraged and coerced by the FPG and BSA to do all in its power, where possible, to cease legal action against any supporters of the club.
“Both Owen Oyston and Karl Oyston consider Jeremy Smith to be a life-long fan who, along with his parents, has supported the football club over many years.
“It is accepted that the club’s supporters may sometimes air their views inappropriately, and those expressions are borne from the same frustrations the club’s owners bear.
“Owen Oyston recently made a commitment to supporters during an open meeting that no new legal actions would be taken by the club. At the meeting Owen Oyston was made acutely aware that existing court actions should be settled, where possible. He explained that this was a two-way street understanding that needed to be supported by all supporters’ groups.
“This statement is a signal to all supporters that the club will look to conclude legal matters so that all of us can concentrate on the future and not rake over the past, which has been counter-productive and damaging to us all. The club urges all supporters, both those attending matches and those choosing not to, to now support the manager and players to achieve success once more.”