Sunday, 3 July 2011

The Spook, The Chief, Her Strife and His Lover

West Ham United plan to sue the Sunday Times and Tottenham over allegations of corruption during their successful bid to take over the Olympic stadium. The club were awarded the right to move to the new stadium after the 2012 games, beating Tottenham in the process. A report in today's The Sunday Times claimed that secret payments had been made to an executive on the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), the body which unanimously made the decision, during the selection process. The article states:

A shadow was cast over the Olympic Games last night after it emerged that the £500m stadium is at the centre of a corruption scandal. One of London's biggest football clubs has been exposed for making secret payments to an executive on the body that awarded the stadium to the club after the games are completed. West Ham United made payments totalling £20,000 into [an OPLC] executive’s bank account before and after it was selected as the owner of the stadium in east London.

The money was paid to Dionne Knight, the Porsche-driving director of corporate services at the Olympic Park Legacy Company (OPLC), the quango that warded the stadium to West Ham. The arrangement was put in place by Ian Tompkins, a director of West Ham who masterminded its Olympic stadium bid. Knight and Tompkins are in a relationship together.

Both executives were suspended on Friday after The Sunday Times confronted them with evidence of the payments. They informed reporters that Karren Brady, West Ham’s vice-chairwoman, had known about the payments and insisted it was for "consultancy work". However Knight also admitted that she had not told her employers about the payments. The disclosures, states the Sunday Times, could force the government to reopen the bid for the Olympic stadium if West Ham is found to have acted improperly. Interestingly, the information- detailed in bank and telephone records- was obtained by corporate investigators hired by Tottenham Hotspur.

The north London club is currently seeking a judicial review of the decision. Although they refused to comment officially, a senior source said: "Clearly if West Ham had someone on the payroll from the OPLC and it can be proved she had access to confidential information relating to the bids, there is no way it can't go back and be reopened."

The story continues:

Knight, 34, who earns £84,000 a year, is one of a small number of directors on
the OPLC, a government body set up to manage the handover of the stadium and the
surrounding Olympic park. The investigators were hired by Spurs two days before
West Ham was voted the preferred bidder on February 11. Both clubs hoped to make
the stadium their home ground. West Ham was the preferred bidder because it
pledged to keep a running track inside the stadium.

Investigators obtained bank statements, credit reports, utility bills and telephone records for Knight and Tompkins. Knight was placed under surveillance. They established that four payments had gone into Knight’s bank account between December and April from a West Ham United account at the Bank of Scotland, for £566, £1,302, £3,400 and £4,600. They say there was a further sum of £4,800 in June.
This weekend Knight admitted receiving a total of £20,400 from West Ham and said it was for consultancy work. The arrangement was reportedly made two months before West Ham won the bid. Amusingly, this means the sum total of secret payments allegedly paid by West Ham to the OPLC's director of corporate services prior to United being granted preferred bidder status for the Olympic Stadium totalled just £1,868; the sum constituting two seperate payments of £566 and £1,302 and the rough equivalent of a weeks' wages. Knight had initially refused to say what the work was but yesterday her lawyer said it was "a procurement contract in relation to the stadium". Knight is said to have informed the OPLC about her relationship with Tompkins but admitted she had not told it about the cash from West Ham. She accepts this was wrong but denies leaking confidential information.

Conjecture surrounding the exact relationship of Knight and Tompkins has been rife for several months in certain quarters. As far back as early April, Mike Law made a Freedom of Information request to Newham Borough Council asking for clarification. His email reads:

Dear Newham Borough Council,

Please provide me with details of any and all visits made by Ian Tompkins, West Ham United FC’s Olympic Project Director (formerly Newham Council’s Head of Communications) and Dionne Knight of the Olympic Park Legacy Company (formerly, Head of Procurement, Legal Services, Newham Council) to Newham Dockside (or any other premises owned, leased or rented by Newham Council) - both individually and/or together – since 1st September 2010.

Would you please provide details regarding the dates of such visits; length of time of each visit; and, which council officers or elected members they met with.

Would you provide me with copies of all correspondence (including e-mails) - commercially confidential information redacted - between Ian Tompkins and any council officers involved in Newham Council’s Olympic Stadium joint bid with WHUFC from 1st September 2010 to 23rd March 2011.

Would you provide me with copies of all correspondence (including e-mails) - commercially confidential information redacted - between Ian Tompkins and any elected members (including the Mayor) responsible for Newham Council’s Olympic Stadium joint bid with WHUFC from 1st September 2010 to 23rd March 2011.

Would you also provide me with copies of all correspondence (including e-mails) - commercially confidential information redacted - between Ian Tompkins and Newham Council’s Communications Department from 1st September 2010 to 23rd
March 2011.

For their part, the Sunday Times want to know why West Ham commissioned work before it had even won the bid and why it sanctioned the payments. The club, relegated from the Premier League last season, said Brady had been led to believe that the OPLC had approved Knight's consultancy work. It would give only scant details of the work. In a statement, the OPLC confirmed Knight had told it about her relationship with West Ham’s bid director and measures were taken to ensure she had no access to sensitive information. Speaking on Friday when the first rumblings of this story broke, the OPLC were quick to address any suggestion of impropriety. "This individual had no involvement whatsoever in our stadium process," the OPLC said. "The individual concerned had declared a personal relationship with an employee of West Ham United FC when she joined the organisation and we therefore put robust measures in place to ensure our Stadium process was not compromised."

West Ham United have this morning said it is treating the claims made by the newspaper "with the utmost seriousness" and insisted it was "certain of the robustness" of its successful bid to take over the east London stadium following the 2012 games. Also in the firing line are Tottenham and the corporate intelligence company employed by the north Londoners to obtain private information in the cash-for-stadium scandal. A statement on the official website reads:

The newspaper's statement that Tottenham Hotspur employed the investigators who obtained private information illegally is one we are treating with the utmost seriousness and no doubt data protection and prosecution agencies may also do so.

The only wrongdoing here is by those who have broken the law and obtained private information. It would appear that no stone has gone unturned trying to find a way to undermine our bid including apparently targeting the 14 OPLC Board members who had voted unanimously on the bid in our favour.

The suggestion of 'secret cash' in the Sunday Times article is absolutely and categorically denied. As such, legal action is being taken against the Sunday Times, as well as Tottenham Hotspur.
The statement also dismissed suggestions that the OPLC's Ms Knight - who was suspended from her post on Friday - was given preferential treatment when offered consultancy work by the club. It stated her work for the Legacy Stadium Partnership (LSP) owned 50% by London Borough of Newham and 50% by West Ham United was in relation to the procurement of a construction partner after the Olympic Games. A number of companies applied for the procurement contract. It was awarded to Ms Knight as she was able to provide expertise at a significantly competitive price. The work that she subsequently undertook for the LSP was of a very high standard.

The OPLC has confirmed that Ms Knight had absolutely no involvement in the bidding process and we repeat that secret cash was not paid to her. Her work was very transparent and the bidding process was never compromised. The work was never hidden, for example she personally attended meetings. There is considerable documentation to confirm the existence and quality of her work. Two firms of solicitors are able to confirm those facts. The price we paid for the work was extremely competitive.

The LSP, including Karren Brady who is named in the offending article, has not paid any member of the OPLC for any information in relation to the bid process, and has not received any unauthorised information from the OPLC or any other source in relation to its bid.

The OPLC has further confirmed that she and other employees of the OPLC did not have access to confidential information as it was held at the OPLC’s external solicitors’ offices.

The LSP believed Ms Knight had authority to do the work as that was what it was informed. The fact that the work was undertaken is wholly irrelevant to the Olympic Stadium bid process and only raises issues of employment law.
The club insisted they are so confident in the probity of their actions that they would take the strongest action possible against any suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of West Ham United or its officers, as well as involve the police and the data protection registrar in regard to the accessing of private information by illegal means. To conclude, it was reiterated that the allegations are now the subject of legal action. If there is any further publication of the allegations, it warned, further action will be taken.


Anonymous said...

not only fifa? perhaps the Olympic Stadium should have been sold rather than given away, then there wouldn't have been any arguments who should own it.

Anonymous said...

Sadly there are no winners here. A process was put in place. It was followed to conclusion and only afterwads did certain parties complain.

It seems there are no depths to which Tottnham will not sink to undermine this process and the public are just a little too smart to fall for muck raking.

Move on everybody - this is boring!

Anonymous said...

It seems the Sunday Times have nothing better to do than make up stories to suit themselves. It is not the first time they have been sued and it won't be the last, their sources are unreliable as always and their intrusion into the private lives of others are in keeping with their sister paper The News of the World. It is time we had proper privacy laws in this Country to protect the innocent from the journalist vultures


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