INDEPENDENT 2024-03-25 16:04:32

The contradiction at the heart of Leicester’s Premier League case

Leicester City already held a unique status with both the Premier League and the EFL. Now they may have another. The only club to win each of English football’s top three divisions in the 21st century – champions of League One; Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal may never sing that – then announced plans to take legal action against both the Premier League and the EFL.

The feelgood success story has become an emblematic failure in an age of suddenly greater regulation and a dramatic recourse to the lawyers. Attention has shifted from Jamie Vardy’s predilection for vodka and Red Bulls to Nick De Marco KC’s capacity to win court cases. Leicester were the 5000-1 shots who won the title. They presumably think the odds are slightly better when they take on the governing bodies.

There may be a contradiction in their case. Trying to argue they are not subject to the Premier League’s jurisdiction presumably brings them into the EFL’s remit. One way or another, the accusation is that Leicester have failed Financial Fair Play; in one division or another, this season or next, it should bring a points deduction. Which, in turn, either further imperils their chances of promotion or gives them an added obstacle to stay up next season.

But it is also revealing in various other respects. When Everton were the trailblazers in being charged for their breach of Profitability and Sustainability Rules (PSR), there was talk of other clubs suing them; if the accusation was that Everton cheated to get an advantage, that looks ridiculous when they finished 17th last season and the clubs in 16th (Nottingham Forest) and 18th (Leicester) have their own breaches.

Another is that all three suffered on the balance sheet for their underachievement. Budgeting to finish far higher in the Premier League than they did – somehow Everton factored in a sixth-place finish in 2021-22 and trailed in 16th – brings far less prize money and a hole in the accounts ledger. Leicester had more reasons to imagine themselves in the upper echelons of the table but went from five consecutive top-half finishes, two of them in fifth, to 18th in 2022-23.

It is notable, too, that Covid upended the footballing economy. Clubs were permitted to write off Covid losses in their accounts – and Everton’s felt suspiciously large – without them counting towards FFP calculations. But the collapse of transfer fees, especially in other leagues, reduced the market to sell players; it also led to a knock-on effect by restricting the spending power of Premier League rivals who might have otherwise sold well to Europe to finance their own buying.

Leicester had a reputation as fine traders, but they posted a record £92.5m loss for 2021-22, a rare year without a significant sale. In previous summers, players such as Ben Chilwell, Harry Maguire and Riyad Mahrez had brought in windfalls. That had come to feel part of the business plan, yet it can illustrate the precarious position clubs find themselves in: even the well-run are only a few poor decisions away from being plunged into trouble and Leicester made more than a few. Nevertheless, they did well to get £70m from Chelsea for the ever-injured Wesley Fofana in 2022; they then sold James Maddison, Harvey Barnes and Timothy Castagne the following year, after relegation, even though too many of the others who left did so on free transfers.

But a relatively sure touch in the transfer market started to desert them. There were other signings they could not sell for a profit – Danny Ward, Ayoze Perez and Rachid Ghezzal in 2018, Dennis Praet in 2019 – but two windows of recruitment came at a particular cost. The 2021 outlay on Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare and Jannik Vestergaard, none either a footballing or financial success, was compounded by the January 2023 outlay on Harry Souttar and Victor Kristiansen.

In the process, Leicester contrived to get the worst of both worlds: spending some £30m to compound their FFP issues and yet still getting relegated. It also illustrates that they should have done more to try and cash in on Youri Tielemans, Caglar Soyuncu and Perez while they still could and, while the scale of Leicester’s breach is not yet known, the recurring theme between them, Everton and Forest is that much of it was avoidable: without accumulating so many players, with fewer bad signings, with more sales, the figures may be more presentable.

But it is also a hugely damning indictment of Brendan Rodgers, even if the cost of sacking him may be a further factor in taking Leicester over the FFP limit. Leicester’s former manager had a tendency to voice his complaints about the board’s reluctance to spend in the summer of 2022; now it is apparent that was based on sounder financial logic than his own.

Rodgers had excelled before. Last season, he underachieved with what has proved an unaffordable squad; it would be instructive to know if Leicester’s wage bill was higher than Newcastle’s, as they finished fourth; certainly before bonuses were triggered on Tyneside anyway.

The counter-argument is that Leicester suffered for their success. They were a club without big-six commercial or matchday income but, as they finished fifth twice and won the FA Cup, they had players who deserved to be paid accordingly. They were damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.

Viewed that way, Leicester were punished for their ambition. Certainly it put them in a position where they had less margin for error. But err Leicester did, both in plummeting into the Championship and with transfer-market missteps. Now they find themselves under a transfer embargo, facing a loss of points, their future threatened.

Saying they wanted charges “proportionately determined” risked accusations of hypocrisy, given that threats to take legal action against the Premier League and the Football League strike some as disproportionate. But what can be said is that the landscape has been transformed since Leicester won the Championship in 2014 – while breaching Financial Fair Play.

Rishi Sunak facing another by-election as lobbying sting MP Scott Benton quits

Tory MP Scott Benton is quitting parliament almost a year after being embroiled in a lobbying sting.

The Blackpool South MP has written to Jeremy Hunt with “a heavy heart” to quit, meaning Rishi Sunak faces another tricky by-election in the seat.

His resignation comes as a recall petition in his seat was ongoing, having been suspended from the parliament after allegedly being caught offering to lobby ministers on behalf of gambling investors in exchange for money.

He was expected to be recalled from parliament by his constituents and face a by-election in the seat he would have been likely to lose.

Mr Benton won the seat, which had been held since 1997 by Labour, for the Conservatives under Boris Johnson in 2019. He had a narrow majority of just 3,690, and with the Conservatives trailing Labour in the national polls by 22 points, he was expected to lose the seat in a by-election later this year.

His immediate resignation, rather than waiting for the recall petition to conclude next month, will bring forward the contest.

In his resignation statement, Mr Benton said: “It’s with a heavy heart that I have written to the Chancellor this morning to tender my resignation as your MP.

“I have always sought to do what I believed to be in the best interests of Blackpool, and of our country. In 2019, I pledged to be an active, hardworking and relatable MP who would listen to your concerns and views and act upon them.

“I’d like to think that I have more than succeeded in that aim.”

The chancellor, Mr Hunt, confirmed he had appointed Mr Benton to be Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead under parliament’s arcane rules for MPs who want to quit. It is expected that the Blackpool South contest will take place on the same day as the local elections on 2 May.

In February, Mr Benton was suspended from the House of Commons for 35 days after being found to have breached the rules.

The House of Commons committee on standards found the MP had given the impression he was “corrupt” and “for sale” after he was secretly filmed saying he could table parliamentary questions and provide “behind the scenes” information for up to £4,000 a month.

Mr Benton was prepared to leak market-sensitive information to an investment fund and ask parliamentary questions on its behalf, in breach of parliamentary lobbying rules, an undercover investigation for The Times found.

He was caught on camera telling undercover reporters posing as investors how he was willing to take actions which would break Parliament’s lobbying rules.

In a meeting in early March, Mr Benton described how he could support a fake investment fund, which he believed was set up by an Indian businessman looking to make investments in the UK betting and gaming sector, by attempting to water down proposed gambling reforms.

Mr Benton also offered a “guarantee” to provide a copy of an upcoming gambling White Paper to the business at least two days before publication, potentially allowing it to benefit from market-sensitive information.

He also said he could table parliamentary written questions and said he had previously done it on behalf of a company.

Mr Benton said he could offer “the direct ear of a minister who is actually going to make these decisions” and speak to them outside the Commons voting lobby.

The MP agreed with a fee proposed by the reporters in the range of £2,000 to £4,000 a month for two days’ work.

The contest in Mr Benton’s seat will be the latest challenge for Mr Sunak, who has faced a slew of brutal by-election defeats in the past year, including in Peter Bone’s former constituency of Wellingborough and Chris Skidmore’s old seat of Kingswood.

Calls for murder law review amid outrage over Nottingham killer’s manslaughter pleas

A watchdog has called for a review of murder laws following an outcry from victims’ families over the decision to allow Nottingham attack killer to plead guilty to manslaughter.

Inspectors found the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) complied with the law when they accepted Valdo Calocane’s guilty plea to manslaughter by diminished responsibility.

This meant the triple killer, who brutally stabbed students Barnaby Webber, 19, Grace O’Malley-Kumar, 19, and school caretaker Ian Coates, 65, in June last year, did not stand trial for murder.

But, in a report published on Monday, His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Inspectorate (HMCPSI) called for the government to consider reviewing how homicide is categorised and the impact of diminished responsibility.

Reacting to the report, one victim’s mum said the current laws mean that “murderers can get away with murder”.

Inspectors said the CPS complied with the law and met their obligations to the families – but admitted the case highlighted areas where families could have been better supported.

A review into the decision was ordered after grieving family members said “true justice” had not been served. Calocane, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, was handed an indefinite hospital order in January.

Ahead of the review, Mr Webber’s mother claimed families had been “let down” by police and the CPS and had presented her family with “a fait accompli that the decision had been made to accept manslaughter charges”.

“At no point during the previous five and a half months were we given any indication that this could conclude in anything other than murder,” she said. “We trusted in our system, foolishly as it turns out.”

At the end of January, the Attorney General Victoria Prentis KC MP asked for a rapid and independent inspection of the actions carried out by the CPS in the Calocane case following concerns raised by the victims’ families.

The inspection report has called for the government to revisit whether homicide should be considered in three tiers, as recommended by the Law Commission in 2006. This would make three tiers of charges available to prosecutors – first degree and second degree murder, as well as manslaughter.

Inspectors found that if the 2006 recommendations had been accepted and implemented, “the unlawful killings in this tragic case would have been categorised as murder, albeit second degree murder”.

It also called for the government to look at whether the culpability of the person who commits murder should be reduced to manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility. 

It further asked for a review of whether victims should be entitled to be ‘consulted’ about decisions taken as opposed to being ‘informed’.

Chief Inspector Anthony Rogers said: “This was a horrific and tragic case. Valdo Calocane brutally killed three innocent people, and violently attacked three other victims. My thoughts remain with all those involved in this tragic case during this devastating time.

“It is unimaginable having to deal with the death of a loved one under such horrific circumstances, but having to deal with the criminal justice system at a time of heartbreak and grief adds a further dimension of challenge. 

“To better support victims and increase public trust, we call on the government to consider amending the homicide law, review the support provided to victims of crime in serious cases such as this, and provide greater clarity about the role of victims in the criminal justice system.” 

Speaking to journalists after the report was published, Mrs Webber said: “We’re disappointed by not entirely surprised, the overall outcome I think, until the law changes in this country, the diminished responsibility charge and plea means that murderers can get away with murder.

She continued: “We have never disputed Calocane’s mental health problems, but what I would say is that at the moment in this country, if you commit murder and you’ve got mental health issues, then it’s very unlikely that you are going to be tried for murder and it’s abhorrent that it could be downgraded to manslaughter just because it is how the law is stated”.

Dr Sanjoy Kumar, father of victim Grace O’Malley-Kumar, added: “I think the first question you have to ask … is: can a paranoid schizophrenic commit murder in this country?

“Because it seems to me that you can’t, and that’s impossible for us to understand.”

Calocane’s sentence to an indefinite hospital order has also been referred to the Court of Appeal for being “unduly lenient” by the attorney general.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak previously promised the victims’ families that “we will get the answers” but their calls for a public inquiry have so far gone unanswered.

Other investigations into the actions of police and mental health staff continue.

More follows…

Battered and bruised Russia concert hall massacre suspects charged in court

Two of the four suspects charged with carrying out the concert hall attack in Moscow that killed more than 130 people have pleaded guilty after appearing in a Russian court bearing the hallmarks of torture.

Moscow’s Basmanny District Court formally charged Dalerdzhon Mirzoyev, 32, Saidakrami Rachabalizoda, 30, Mukhammadsobir Faizov, 19, and Shamsidin Fariduni, 25, with committing a terrorist attack. The offence carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The court ordered that the men, all of whom are citizens of Tajikistan, be held in pre-trial custody until May 22.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov declined to answer a question about the visible signs of torture on the suspects’ bodies.

It comes as French President Emmanuel Macron said that Isis-Khorasan, the group that claimed responsibility for the Moscow attack, has also attempted multiple attacks in France.

“This group also tried to commit several actions on our own soil,” Mr Macron told reporters during a visit to French Guyana.

The French government on Sunday raised its terror alert warning to its highest level following the shootings in Moscow.

History, heritage, cuisine and culture in Split, Croatia

Historical buildings, pine forest hills and breathtaking views of the Adriatic Sea are just a few things to expect on a fun-filled trip to the old-world coastal city of Split. This ancient sliver of the country is steeped in eclectic history and blessed with abundant natural beauty, a dynamic food scene, and more cultural attractions you can shake a stick at. It’s an all-rounder, ideal to visit no matter the season and even for a quick city break since there are plenty of direct flights from UK cities, including Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester. Here’s our must-see, must-do guide to this stunning city…

Split is Croatia’s sportiest city, often referred to as The City of Sport, thanks to the number of professional athletes that hail from the city. In fact, Split is the city with the highest number of Olympic medal winners per capita. You can see their names proudly presented on Sports Walk of Fame on the city’s west coast, including Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanišević, double world high jump champion Blanka Vlašić, and ex–NBA star Toni Kukoč.

Catch a basketball game featuring the legendary KK Split, one of the most successful clubs in Europe, at the Gripe Sports Hall, or watch a football match with HNK Hajduk Split at the Poljud Stadium to feel the electrifying passion of local fans. If you’d rather participate, take advantage of Split’s drop-dead coastal location by trying windsurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding or sailing; many places offer equipment rental or lessons. Or, to keep it traditional, try your hand at ‘picigin’ – a local ball game from Split that is played at the beach.

For a more cerebral experience, immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, from Roman walls to UNESCO heritage sites and historical Old Towns. Wander through preserved Roman streets lined with Gothic and Renaissance buildings and visit the oldest cathedral building in the world, Diocletian’s Palace, built between 295 and 305 A.D. The beautiful basement halls here (more commonly known as the substructures) are one of the world’s best-preserved complexes from the era of classical antiquity and central to the historical centre of Split being added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.

Dip your toe into the world of Croatian art at the Ivan Meštrović Gallery, wholly dedicated to the sculptor himself, renowned for his powerful and expressive works. There’s also the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, which delves deep into the city’s history across more than 20,000 artefacts. Plus, the museum itself is an architectural masterpiece.

If you want to learn all about the city’s history and citizens, the City Museum of Split is a must-visit. It was founded in 1947 at the stunning palace of the Papalić family and is a stunning example of late-Gothic style architecture.

There’s also the Ethnographic Museum of Split, situated inside a former residential complex in the southeastern quarter of Diocletian’s Palace. The museum holds a vast collection of artefacts that showcase the traditional way of life, customs, and cultural practices of the people of the Dalmatia region and beyond. You’ll find everything from household items and religious objects to traditional tools and clothing.

Leave some time in your itinerary to explore the city’s natural wonders and incredible beaches. Ideally situated on the Adriatic coast, Split houses some of Croatia’s finest and most picturesque beaches. Bačvice Beach is one of the most popular in the area, perfect for shallow bathing and basking in the sun; plus, there are many bars and restaurants along the front, and concerts take place throughout the summer months.

There’s also Bene Beach, located on the northeastern part of the leafy Marjan Forest Park, often referred to as the green oasis of Split. It’s usually a little quieter, so it’s perfect for finding a secluded spot, sheltered beautifully by the trees that border the shoreline. Hiking or biking in the forest park Marjan is also a great way to experience the natural landscape of the Dalmatian Coast. You can follow many routes through fragrant pine forests and scenic viewpoints – the Marjan Hill Viewpoint overlooks the entire Old Town. Finish off with a dip in the sea to cool off.

Kašjuni Beach is known for being particularly beautiful, surrounded by lush greenery and rocky cliffs. It tends to be a little quieter and less crowded with calm, crystal-clear water, ideal for snorkelling and swimming. While on the southern side of Marjan, you’ll find Kaštelet Beach, a small but peaceful fine-pebbled beach with shallow banks, perfect for dipping in and out of between basking in the sun.

Follow the scenic coastal promenade from the city centre, and you’ll eventually reach Trstenik, home to a well-equipped, picturesque beach popular amongst water sports enthusiasts. Here, you can enjoy windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding and more. The surrounding neighbourhood is chock full of restaurants, shops and places to stay should you want to spend a few nights here.

Split also serves as an ideal hub for day excursions, offering easy access to the stunning Dalmatian islands and hinterland, each brimming with natural and cultural treasures. From the city, you can visit several of Dalmatia’s spectacular islands, including Brac, Hvar, Vis, Solta and many more. Bisevo Island is one of the most popular to visit, where the remains of a 1050 AD Benedictine monastery lay, and the Blue Cave, one of the must-see natural attractions in the country, renowned for its incredible glowy sun rays that shine through cracks in the cave, creating a magical blue glimmer.

Just a half-hour drive from the city centre, you’ll find idyllic hiking trails on mountains such as Mosor, Kozjak, and Biokovo. There’s also the Cetina River, where you can participate in heart-pumping rafting and canyoning adventures.

As a cultural hub, Split boasts a diverse timetable of not-to-be-missed events throughout the year, including Sudamja, Stories of Diocletian, Advent – Winter Joys, Split Summer Festival, the Split Carnival, Month of Gastronomy and the Split Marathon.  In recent years, the city has also emerged as a sought-after filming destination, hosting productions such as Game of Thrones and the Dark Tower movie. So it’s pretty fitting that the city is home to the Mediterranean Film Festival and the International Festival of New Film.

Food-wise, Croatia’s diverse and delicious cuisine varies significantly from region to region, with coastal areas focusing more on seafood dishes like grilled fish, octopus salad, and black risotto. Learn all about Croatian fare at a local cookery class, where you’ll get to sample and make delicious dishes and take recipes back home.

Split’s culinary scene is constantly evolving, with many restaurants opening in the city, especially in the historic centre and its surroundings. Several restaurants have been recognised by the world-famous Michelin Guide, but there are many more worth visiting, with menus brimming with local Mediterranean cuisine, often with a creative twist added by some of Croatia’s best chefs. Most of the local restaurants’ menus are made with regional, fresh produce, including just-caught seafood.

For an authentic Croatian experience and the most local atmosphere, travellers should dine at a traditional tavern-style konoba restaurant, the Dalmatian version of a tavern, where you can enjoy fresh fish and seafood and popular local meat dishes.

The local diet is also rich in seasonal vegetables, which vegetarians can enjoy in many of the city’s restaurants, with plenty of spots specialising in vegetarian and vegan fare.

Wine and olive oil are essential components of Split’s gastronomic makeup, meaning that restaurants are always stocked with exceptional Croatian wines, particularly those produced within Dalmatia. You can enjoy them with dinner or at a local wine tasting.

If you’re looking for local produce, Ribarnica is stocked with fresh seafood plucked out of the neighbouring Adriatic Sea. While Pazar Green Market is the place to go for fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, cheese, cured meat, honey, and sweet treats, for delicious eats you can sample on the spot, or take home for a slice of Split you can reminisce with.

For more Split travel ideas and inspiration, head to Visit Split or check out Instagram or Facebook

The Tories may need more than economic growth to change their fortunes

It was revealing that Jeremy Hunt was put forward by the government for the Sunday political shows on TV – unusually, only three weeks after his last Sunday media round on the eve of his Budget.

The chancellor’s latest appearance was a tacit admission that his package, including a two-percentage-point cut in national insurance contributions, has failed to move the political dial – to the frustration of the Conservative MPs who are starting to fear that nothing will dent Labour’s 20-point lead in the opinion polls.

True, Mr Hunt wanted the opportunity to bask in the brighter economic news since his Budget – a sharp drop in inflation and a return to limited economic growth which should soon bring the UK’s recession to an end. Ministers hope that wages outpacing inflation will generate a “feelgood factor”, and that the Bank of England will soon start to bring down interest rates so mortgage rates fall, undoing some of the damage from Liz Truss’s disastrous mini-Budget.

Is there clear water between Tory and Labour economic policies?

The Labour Party has faced accusations of mirroring the Conservative Party’s economic strategies.

Last week, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves outlined her economic approach in her Mais lecture, prompting some to liken her to Margaret Thatcher.

Echoing Labour’s commitment to a “decade of national renewal”, Ms Reeves promised substantial reforms akin to Thatcher’s era, aiming to reverse the nation’s economic decline and foster robust growth.