MPs criticise rugby bosses for response to club owner’s SDT sanction

Goldring: Banned by SDT

MPs have criticised the Rugby Football Union (RFU) for not taking action against an owner of a leading club who was banned from working for law firms.

Colin Goldring, 38, was a co-owner of Worcester Warriors, which played in rugby’s Premiership until going into administration earlier in September.

The committee said Worcester Warriors’ “unscrupulous owners mismanaged club finances while attempting to strip the club of its assets”.

Neither the RFU nor the Premiership Rugby Ltd (PRL) intervened despite Mr Goldring being barred from working for any law firm without the explicit permission of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), it observed.

The club has been suspended and will be relegated from the Premiership this year, along with Wasps, which also went into administration.

Last summer, the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal approved an agreed outcome between Mr Goldring and the SRA that made him subject to an order under section 43 of the Solicitors Act 1974, meaning he cannot work for a law firm without the regulator’s permission.

He was sanctioned for multiple failures as he ran the London office of a Lancashire law firm unsupervised, including offering a banking facility, making unauthorised payments to third parties, and due diligence and anti-money laundering failures.

In the wake of this last July, a statement published on the websites of both Worcester Warriors and Morecambe – the League One football team where he was also a director – said that both the RFU and Football League were “made aware of the situation prior” to the disciplinary outcome being agreed.

“All regulatory bodies expressed to Goldring that they were satisfied he was fit and proper to own and be director of a sports club.”

The RFU has subsequently said it was only aware of the SDT proceedings after the decision was published.

A report from the digital, culture, media and sport select committee this week described the financial demise of Worcester and Wasps as a “stain on the reputation” of the RFU and PRL.

They concluded that poor oversight from the sport’s governing bodies contributed to the clubs’ collapses.

Specifically on Mr Goldring, they said: “One of the most striking facets of the problems at Worcester Warriors was the lack of due diligence undertaken regarding its owners, particularly Colin Goldring.

“In May, Goldring was barred by the SDT from working for any legal firm without the explicit permission of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, following significant financial irregularities at the legal firm for which he worked.

“The SDT found that Goldring ‘failed to act with moral soundness, rectitude, and steady adherence to an ethical code’. This was seemingly not enough for the RFU to intervene and end Mr Goldring’s ownership of Worcester Warriors.”

However, the report noted that, in a joint submission, the RFU and PRL acknowledged that change was needed.

They said: “A fuller, new owners’ and directors’ test, based on other best practice, is being drafted and will be in place for next season.”

Giving evidence to the committee, RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said the need to change the ownership test had been superseded by the priority of saving the club, but that Mr Goldring “certainly wouldn’t get through a ‘fit and proper person’ test now”.

Damian Green MP, acting chair of the committee, said: “We welcome the raft of changes announced by the PRL and RFU. Better safeguards and a stronger owners’ and directors’ test are desperately needed. But it’s incredibly disappointing that two clubs had to collapse for the rugby governing bodies to act.”

The committee concluded that the financial situation of Premiership clubs was “unsustainable”.

Mr Goldring and his business partner, Jason Whittingham, are in the process of trying to sell Morecambe.

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