Sacked Sunderland AFC executive 'sent email containing topless ladies', court told

Michael Farnan
Michael Farnan

A sacked Sunderland AFC executive sent confidential emails to former vice-chairman David Miliband and a saucy Christmas card email featuring topless women to others, a court has heard.

Michael Farnan, the Black Cats’ former international and national marketing director, is claiming a seven-figure sum after his dismissal for alleged gross misconduct in a High Court civil case.

SAFC’s chief executive Margaret Byrne today gave evidence on behalf of the club at a hearing in Liverpool over claims Mr Farnan had breached confidentially rules.

Cheshire-based Mr Farnan, formerly employed by Manchester United and who was earning £190,000 a year at the Stadium of Light, claims he was dismissed on the basis of “trumped up” charges and there was no substance in the claims against him.

Miss Byrne presented her witness statement in which she claims Mr Farnan has sent confidential emails to his wife Nikki and others, including David Miliband, even though Mr Miliband was no longer the club’s vice chairman, having left in March 2013 after the appointment of new manager, Paolo Di Canio.

Irish-born Miss Byrne also claims he had sent “unprofessional” emails including one to an Italian FA official in which “he was rude about me.”

Mr Farnan has told the court that he was “technically illiterate” and his wife Nikki helped with his admin work but had not done so in a covert way. Miss Byrne maintains he had been told to use his club email address for all club business and he had confirmed he would.

The court 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.

He claims Miss Byrne “engineered” his dismissal and after he left her “close ally” Gary Hutchinson was promoted to Commercial Director and absorbed Mr Farnan’s portfolio and position.

Mr Farnan also alleges he had been “marginalised” by her for some time and his dismissal was “entirely consistent with his recent experiences.”

Miss Byrne says that the decision to dismiss him was taken by Facilities Manager Peter Weymes and he was escorted off the premises by the head of security.

Paul Gilroy, QC, representing Mr Farnan, suggested that some of her assertions are “a complete travesty” and “ridiculous”, which she disputes.

She also denied his suggestion that she was “making up” her evidence as she went along. “You will flex whichever way you think the wind is blowing,” he claimed.

Mr Farnan also claims that former chairman Niall Quinn had warned him that Miss Byrne and SAFC owner Ellis Short “may try to muddy the waters” about his commission payments. She denies this.

During the hearing, which began on Monday, the club also claim 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.

In reply, his legal team said the email was no worse than emails sent by Richard Scudamore, CEO of the Premier League, which league members, including SAFC, decided not to take action about.

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 six-figure sums he says he is owed for his part in major 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.

The case is continuing and expected to conclude next week.