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Sentinel gagged by two former football club chairmen

The Stoke Sentinel has won leave to appeal against an injunction granted to two former Stoke City Football Club chairmen.

The injunction, granted in Clerkenwell County Court, prevents The Sentinel suggesting that Peter Coates and Keith Humphreys have not sufficiently invested in the club.

The court ruled that The Sentinel had breached an undertaking given as part of a legal settlement in March 1998, following a wrong report concerning the price being asked for shares by Coates and Humphreys.

The injunction focuses on two paragraphs of comment, which it was claimed, brought into question the investment of both men.

The comment, written by the paper’s sports correspondent Les Scott in May 1998 said: “What I wonder is – how much money Mr Humphreys has put into Stoke City Football Club in, say, the last two years?

“Mr Humphreys sees every game home and away in comparative comfort, but what in return has he put into Stoke City to justify his privileged position on the board?”

In a statement to the court, Sentinel editor, Sean Dooley, said: “I have no doubt from reading many of the letters sent to us that the two paragraphs written by Les Scott did nothing more than merely echo the thoughts of ordinary supporters.”

A second article, written by Ian Bayley in February 1999, which said that former director Stan Clarke had “invested not a penny in the day-to-day running of the club – not that this stood him apart from the rest of the board,” was also studied by the court.

Edward Garnier QC, representing The Sentinel, argued that an injunction would restrict the way the newspaper reports on Coates’ and Humphreys’ financial involvement at the club, citing the recently introduced Human Rights Act which protects freedom of expression.

“It’s an important issue. We need to weigh up the way we report in the future. The issue is really where we go from here,” said Mr Dooley.

Judge Armon Jones said the comment by Les Scott was presented as a rhetorical question but it presumed an answer which was in breach of the undertaking.

However, he said, in view of the Human Rights Act, which had not been fully explored, he would grant leave to appeal to the court of appeal.

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