Sacked SAFC executive must wait until new year to learn if his civil claim is successful

Michael Farnan
Michael Farnan

A sacked Sunderland AFC executive must wait until the new year to discover if his civil claim against the club has been successful.

SAFC’s former international marketing director Mike Farnan is claiming a seven-figure sum after his dismissal for alleged gross misconduct.

Mr Farnan, formerly employed by Manchester United, was suspended by the club on May 15, 2013 from his role which involved bringing in national and international shirt sponsorship deals.

After hearing evidence from his legal team and lawyers from the club at a hearing at the High Court sitting in Liverpool, the judge, Mrs Justice Whipple, has now adjourned the hearing until the New Year to consider all the material.

Counsel on both sides summed up their cases, with Mr Farnan’s QC Paul Gilroy claiming there were "yawning chasms" in the club’s evidence.

Mr Farnan, who was earning £190,000 a year, claims he was dismissed on the basis of "trumped-up" charges and there was no substance in the claims against him.

The club’s chief executive Margaret Byrne claims Mr Farnan sent confidential emails to his wife Nikki and others including David Miliband, even though the former Labour MP was no longer the club’s vice-chairman, having left in March 2013 after the controversial appointment of then new manager, Paolo Di Canio.

David Reade, QC, for Sunderland AFC, pointed out that Mr Farnan’s contract enabled the club to sack him for gross misconduct under various headings without giving him notice.

He said that if the club wanted to do something in a particular way, a director is bound by the company’s actions. He was part of the structure and responsible to the club.

Mr Reade spoke of the alleged confidentiality breaches by Mr Farnan and said that the judge had to apply a "gravity test" over them.

He referred to him sending an email to Mr Miliband after his resignation, which he should not have done as he was no longer involved with the club.

The court had heard that Mr Farnan was suspended less than 24 hours after a vitally important sponsorship deal with Bidvest, dependent on the team not being relegated, was completed.

Summing up Mr Farnan’s case, Mr Gilroy said that there was "personal animus" between Miss Byrne and his client. "She wanted to get him out and came up with a series of unsubstantiated allegations and there was also entrapment," he claimed.

Mr Farnan is suing for loss of earnings and unpaid commissions on major commercial deals he says he was involved with during his time at the club, including sponsorship deals with Invest In Africa and Bidvest.

His claim also includes unpaid commission for his work on deals with StubHub, Bet Butler, Sportsfive and the Tanzania Tourist Board, as well as a club tour of Korea.

Mr Gilroy pointed out that Mr Farnan had been on 20% commission which was outside the "scale of norm" and the club wanted to get rid of him "because he wasn’t cutting the mustard".

After the hearing began last week, the club additionally claimed a Christmas card email Mr Farnan sent to his wife and others from his club email address containing an image of topless ladies breached his contract.

"Nothing would save him from the sack for sending that Christmas card email, said Margaret Byrne," said Mr Gilroy.

"That is nonsensical and should be a signpost of a particular view of her evidence," he claimed.