Revealed! The full reasons why Hartlepool United's five-figure fine has been reduced

Hartlepool United have seen a fine from the FA halved - and here's why.

Friday, 28th September 2018, 4:25 pm
Updated Friday, 28th September 2018, 4:52 pm
Pools have seen their fine reduced - here's why

Pools were hit with an FA charge earlier this year after breaching rules on the involvement of intermediaries in the transfers which saw Padraig Amond, Nicky Deverdics and Lewis Alessandra move to the club.

Having been found guilty, the club were hit with a £25,000 fine - but this has now been halved following a successful appeal.

And the FA have now revealed the reasons why the fine was reduced and full details of the appeal which was heard at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, September 8.

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Pools were represented by Ian Scobbie, who earlier this summer was announced to be forming part of Raj Singh's new-look board of directors on a voluntary basis.

Scobbie argued that Pools' fine was excessive and should be reduced given that the club now find themselves in the National League.

Indeed, the mitigating factors which the FA felt warranted a reduction in the fine were that the club had since undergone a change in ownership and that the new owners had actually alerted the FA to these transgressions.

It was agreed that these factors warranted a reduction in the fine, hence why it was reduced to £12,500.

The FA have published full, written reasons as to why the sanctions were reduced and these are listed below:

21. As Mr Elagab (FA regulatory council representative) accepted, the penalty imposed by the RC (regulatory council) cannot stand given that the appeal against the RC’s finding of guilt in respect of one of the six charges must be allowed. There was some discussion about whether it was appropriate to address this by simply reducing the penalty by one fifth. We do not consider this to be a sensible approach. First, it is clear that the penalty is excessive because it includes an impermissible element of deterrence. Second, Mr Scobbie argued that the penalty was excessive on a number of other bases. Rather than approach the successful appeal on a purely mathematical basis, we preferred to address the additional bases of appeal put forward by Mr Scobbie and to determine in light of the totality of factors requiring a reduction in the penalty what the appropriate penalty should be.

22.The RC’s reasons are set out in paragraphs 52-55 of their decision. The RC did not consider that the Club, separately from the actions of Mr Green, bore responsibility for what had occurred. It could not see what steps the Club could and should have taken to ensure compliance by its chief executive, which by virtue of his senior position could reasonably have been expected and relied upon to comply with the regulations. Nonetheless it found that the Club must be held responsible for Mr Green’s actions as chief executive. Recognising that the Club had been badly let down by its most senior employee and on the facts of the case, it concluded that any suspension would be disproportionate. It rejected, however, that a further basis of mitigation lay in the fact that Mr Green had now left and the Club was under new ownership that would not condone such a breach, finding such a plea generally has little or no weight as a mitigating factor. In imposing upon the club a fine of £25,000 the RC did not identify how it had settled on that sum, stating only that this was a sum at a suitable level to reflect the breaches committed by the Club. It also made clear that Hartlepool United FC had provided no financial information. It took into account that the Club is no longer in the English Football League and plays in the National League.

23.On behalf of the Club Mr Scobbie submitted that the RC had failed to take into account a number of factors. First it was submitted that £25,000 was too high a starting point in light of the factors the RC did take into account namely that the Club is now in the National League. The Appeal Board was urged to consider fines imposed for altogether different regulatory offences, or the amount of central funding available to National League clubs. We did not find this helpful. Mr Scobbie next took us through the circumstances in which the new ownership took over the Club, including the very significant debts that it took on. While it is obviously to be welcomed that the Club, which has been in existence for over a century, has been rescued to play another day, the key fact is that in taking ownership of the Club, as Mr Scobbie confirmed, its new owners were well aware of these proceedings and the risk they presented. Mr Scobbie’s submissions found much firmer footing when he criticised the RC for failing to place any weight upon a number of factors which by way of short hand he put forward by reference to a Commission’s decision of 23 May 2014 in a case brought against Mr Phil Smith and Wycombe Wanderers Football Club (“WW”). At 2.6 of its decision in that case, the Commission identified the following mitigating factors, the first two of which represented, in its judgment, exceptional circumstances:-

a. There had been a change in ownership since the commission of the regulatory breaches and the time at which the penalty fell to be imposed;

b. The transgression had been brought to the FA’s attention by the new owners. The Commission considered that the disciplinary process should encourage transparency and frankness in the activities and dealings of those who are subject to FA Rules and Regulations, particularly where to 9 do so might expose the whistle-blower to disciplinary proceedings being taken against it. It concluded that WW was accordingly entitled to very significant credit for alerting the FA to relevant matters in this case.

c. Thirdly WW pleaded guilty at the first opportunity;

d. Fourthly, it cooperated fully with the FA’s investigation; e. It had no relevant antecedents.

24.It was urged upon us that all of these factors apply in the Club’s case. We agree, albeit it was only the second and third transfers that were brought to the attention of the FA by the new owners, who did not take over until last year. We consider that the RC erred in failing to take any of these factors into account. While the points were not advanced by the Club, each factor was identifiable in the papers before it. Like the Commission in the Wycombe Wanderers case we think the first two factors are especially important in relation to the culpability of clubs. The second in particular is one to which it is appropriate to give significant weight to given the extent to which successful regulation in this area depends upon the preparedness of whistle-blowers to act.

25.We recognise that there was no obvious starting point for the RC for identifying an appropriate level of fine. Thus we have taken their penalty of £25,000 which has already taken into account that the Club itself, even at the time of Mr Green’s actions, was not independently at fault. Factoring in the Commission’s error in including a deterrent element as well as its failure to factor the very significant factors further mitigating the severity of the offence, we conclude that an appropriate penalty is £12,500. This level of fine also pays due regard to the seriousness of the offence and the need to mark this even where the Club itself is not at fault and have no history of misconduct.