27th Jul, 2017

Coventry City's owners Sisu may appeal after another court defeat

Correspondent 17th Jul, 2017 Updated: 17th Jul, 2017

COVENTRY City’s ‘owner’ Sisu is set to appeal against a judge’s decision to refuse a High Court judicial review into the council’s Ricoh Arena sale to Wasps.

It would see the off-field courtroom battles rumbling on in a multi-party dispute which has already lasted five years.

London-based hedge fund Sisu claimed at the High Court in Birmingham on Friday that the council and Alan Edward Higgs Charity’s circa £19million stadium company sale in 2014 unlawfully shortchanged the taxpayer under ‘state aid’ laws by around £30million, with an uncompetitive deal.

The court heard Sisu’s suggestions Wasps, already around £40million in debt, should pay the shortfall to the council.

Sisu was also seeking compensation for being denied the opportunity to also bid for the stadium, built for the Sky Blues and propped up for years by the football club’s £1.4million rent.

The ‘state aid’ claim was made on the basis that the stadium company, Arena Coventry Limited, was sold to then London Wasps Holdings Limited on a massively extended lease from 41 to 250 years.

ACL on the new lease term had later been independently valued at nearly £50million. The £19million deal included just £1mIllion for the lease extension, £2.77million each for the council and Higgs’ charity’s shares in ACL, and paying off the council’s loan.

But the judge, Justice Singh, rejected that claim as well as refusing a full judicial review.

Lawyers for the Sisu group of companies told the court it was likely Sisu would at the very least consider lodging an appeal.

A separate judicial review into an earlier Coventry City Council £14.4million taxpayer bailout of the Ricoh Arena was heard in 2014 – after a judge had initially refused to allow the hearing to take place.

Sisu had been successful in overturning that judgment, only to lose the subsequent judicial review, an appeal, and further attempts at appeal.

Sisu was on Friday ordered to pay £75,000 costs to the council and £20,000 ACL/Wasps. Coventry City Football Club insists its budget is not affected by the legal action.

Labour council leader George Duggins and Conservative group opposition leader Gary Ridley said in a joint statement: “We hope that this will be the last stage of the litigation, and that Sisu will not seek permission to appeal, which would only lead to further unnecessary legal costs for all parties involved.”