5th November, 2015

Joseph Mulderig secures dismissal of a claim against a former professional footballer in a high-profile High Court trial concerning alleged historic abuse of apprentices at Stoke City FC

GB v (1) Stoke City Football Club Limited (2) Peter David Fox [2015] EWHC 2862 (QB)

Joseph represented Mr Fox, a former first team goalkeeper with Stoke City FC ('the Club') who made over 400 first team appearances for the Club between 1978 and 1993.

The claimant, an apprentice at the Club between 1986 and 1988, alleged that he was assaulted on two occasions at the former Victoria Ground by Mr Fox assisted by other first team professionals through a practice known as 'the glove'.

As a consequence the claimant alleged that he had suffered physical and psychiatric injury and lost the chance of a career as a professional footballer. He sought damages in excess of £200,000 from Mr Fox and alleged that the Club was vicariously liable for his actions.

Mr Fox vehemently denied the allegations.

A trial of the preliminary issue of limitation took place over 4 days in December 2013 and in a reserved judgment HHJ Butler exercised his discretion to direct that s11 of the Limitation Act 1980 should not apply to the above claims.

The trial of the substantive issues took place over 13 days in July and September 2015 and judgment was handed down on Friday 30.10.15.

The claimant relied upon the evidence of seven former apprentices who had been at the Club between 1984 and 1986. The trial attracted significant attention and the continued interest of the national press and the FA and was fraught with many of the difficulties inherent in trying historical cases including witnesses emerging during the course of the trial as result of press coverage.

On 30.10.15 the judge dismissed the claims. Detailed and extensive cross-examination discredited a number of the claimant's witnesses who had consulted solicitors about pursuing their own claims and had sought to sell their stories to the press. In his judgment, the judge described Mr Mulderig's cross-examination of the claimant as comprehensive and remarked that “It is impossible to do justice to the detail of the cross-examination of the claimant without effectively setting out a transcript...&rdqup;. In a number of respects, for instance his alleged alcohol consumption following the assaults, the judge found the claimant's evidence not to be reliable or truthful. The judge rejected the claimant's evidence that he descended into a cycle of alcohol dependence, that his personal relationships were adversely affected or that his football performance deteriorated after the assaults.

The oral evidence of four former apprentices who had joined the Club with the claimant was found to be inconsistent, contradictory, unreliable and incredible and the evidence of one was, at least in part, dishonest.

The judge also found that even if the assaults had occurred the Club would not have been vicariously liable. To find otherwise in the context of the case would be “little short of holding that any employer should be vicariously liable for any assault on any apprentice or trainee by a full-time employee in all circumstances”. Such a finding would involve an extension of the boundaries of vicarious liability beyond the parameters of the decided authorities. This case is an example, alongside other recent decisions, for example Graham v Commercial [2015] EWCA Civ 47, of the courts adopting a more robust approach to vicarious liability in cases of deliberate acts committed by one employee against another.



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