Details of £400k Rangers legal advice bill kept secret by officials due to ‘secret expert witness’

The details of a £400,000 contract with a public relations giant is being kept from the public due to the involvement of a secret expert witness connected to the Rangers malicious prosecutions.
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Ministers have committed to an inquiry into the botched prosecutions, which has already led to more than £30 million in damages and legal fees, with that figure estimated to potentially rise to £100m.

However, fresh disclosures state the Scottish Government is paying global consultancy firm and PR experts Teneo £400k, in part to help prepare a secret expert witness for any court appearance.

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In response to a Freedom of Information request, Government officials said they did not want any information around the expert witness being brought to the attention of those suing the government “through the media”.

Officials also redacted key aspects of the contract with Teneo, including the specification of work, and refused to release emails between Teneo and the Government, including discussion around “matters relating to an expert witness”.

Ibrox, the home of Rangers FC.Ibrox, the home of Rangers FC.
Ibrox, the home of Rangers FC.

In their response, officials argued there was a “strong public interest in maintaining confidentiality”, rejecting the argument releasing the information would allow for better transparency and accountability.

They said: “This includes allowing the Lord Advocate’s legal advisors and their agents to discuss matters relating to an expert witness fully and frankly in confidence, in order to provide comprehensive legal advice to the Lord Advocate relative to the litigation proceedings without bringing her preparations to the attention of the pursuer or the judge through the media.

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“We acknowledge that there is public interest in disclosing the information for the effective oversight of public funds and to ensure the public purse is obtaining value for money. However, the public purse is better preserved by avoiding prejudice to the proceedings.”

The Scottish Government initially told The Scotsman the £400,000 contract with Teneo was connected with the malicious prosecution cases, but provided no further information.

With the specification of work kept secret by officials, it is not possible to say whether the contract may cover other aspects of the legal action in addition to potentially covering the preparation of the expert witness.

Scottish Conservative MSP Russel Findlay said taxpayers were “entitled to full transparency”.

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He said: “They must have confidence that any further expenditure is appropriate and represents value for money.

“The SNP Government have agreed to our calls for a public inquiry, but they have still not provided specific details, including the need for a judge to be appointed from outwith Scotland.

“That lack of detail, coupled with the questionable redactions in this FOI, suggest that lessons have still not been learned about the damaging lack of transparency.”

Financial experts David Whitehouse and Paul Clark were arrested in 2014 after they were appointed administrators of the company that ran Rangers, which fell into administration in 2012.

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The Crown has since said their prosecution was “malicious” and both men were awarded £10.5m each in damages.

Charles Green, who took over the club in June 2012, received £6.5m in damages after he and five others were charged with serious organised crime offences in relation to the acquisition of the club.

Legal action following these prosecutions is still ongoing, with the £400,000 contract with consulting giant Teneo for “litigation support” intended to help support the Lord Advocate.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It is normal for litigants in important and complex cases to seek independent external expertise. All costs will be subject to public finance and accountability rules.

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“The position of the Scottish Government is clear in respect of the malicious prosecutions. In February 2021, the Scottish Parliament debated the subject of an inquiry into the prosecutions and voted in favour of a judge-led inquiry and the Scottish Government is committed to this course of action.

“As the First Minister explained on June 17, the exact form of inquiry will be determined once all legal proceedings in relation to the cases are concluded.”

A version of this article first appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman

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