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Old 1st October 2013, 11:16   #1
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Default Key Nottingham Forest figure Jim Price may not pass fit and proper test

Key Nottingham Forest figure Jim Price may not pass fit and proper test

• Law Society suspended Price from working as a solicitor
• Price is reportedly cousin of Forest manager Billy Davies

David Conn
The Guardian, Monday 30 September 2013 19.29 BST

The Football League's commitment to its rule requiring club owners and directors to be "fit and proper people" is being called into question by events at Nottingham Forest where a suspended solicitor, currently under investigation in Scotland for possible impropriety in the collapse of his law firm, is being employed in a senior role. Jim Price, reported to be a cousin of the manager, Billy Davies, right, and certainly his adviser, has not been given the title of director, but with Forest's chief executive, Mark Arthur, having left in January, Price appears to be working at the club with director-level authority.

The Guardian knows of one legal contract which Price has signed on behalf of Forest, binding the club to an agreement. Busy on his Twitter account, on which he describes himself as "adviser to Billy Davies, football manager", through the summer, Price discussed conducting Forest's transfer business, including a tweet on 31 August which said: "If we don't get them [players] now we will get them in January. Fawaz [Al Hasawi, Forest's Kuwaiti owner] and me are taking NFFC to the prem."

Being suspended as a solicitor by the Law Society is specifically mentioned in the Football League rules as a reason for a person being disqualified from acting at director level for a club, under the "owners and directors test", formerly known as "the fit and proper person test". Introduced in 2004 to improve the quality and propriety of governance in football clubs, the rule makes it clear that the title a club gives a person is not as relevant as the work the person is doing on the club's behalf.

A person shall be deemed to be a director, the rules say, if he "exercises or is able, legally or beneficially, to exercise control over the affairs of the club".

Price has been described by Forest as "general manager" since he became prominent at the club alongside Davies, then in the programme for Saturday's match against Derby County he was described for the first time as "adviser to the board".

Since the long-serving Arthur and finance director, John Pelling, left on Valentine's Day this year, Forest's only two directors have been the two Kuwaiti owners who bought the club in the summer of 2012, Fawaz and Abdulaziz Mubarak Al Hasawi.

Since then Forest have been through three managers: Steve Cotterill, Sean O'Driscoll and Alex McLeish, before in February appointing Davies, who left his previous stint at the City Ground in June 2011 in some acrimony with the then owner, the late Nigel Doughty.

Although he declined to answer the Guardian's questions about his role, Price has described himself as an adviser to Fawaz Al Hasawi across a range of the Kuwaiti's businesses.

Price was one of the managing partners at the well-established Glasgow-based law firm Ross Harper, which was closed down by the Law Society of Scotland in April last year with £2.5m creditors and serious concerns about whether money held on behalf of clients had been improperly spent.

The firm is now in an insolvency procedure and an investigator appointed by the court, termed a judicial factor, is examining what happened to the money Price's firm was holding in its client account.

Morna Grandison, the judicial factor, told the Guardian: "It is a very draconian step for a factor to be appointed. The court only takes this step where there are serious allegations of impropriety in dealing with clients' money, or a firm's accounts are so inadequate that they cannot tell if client money is missing."

Price and the firm's three other partners had their practising certificates suspended (one has since had his restored), when the firm was closed and the judicial factor appointed. That means Price is automatically excluded from acting in a director-level capacity for any football club, according to the League's rules.

At this early stage of the season, Forest are playing themselves into contention for promotion to the Premier League after the chaotic first year under the Al Hasawis' ownership. Most supporters appear happy, with seven players signed this summer including the £2.5m return of the defender Kelvin Wilson from Celtic, and Davies orchestrated Saturday's 1-0 victory over Derby, one of his own former clubs.

Off the field, however, there is an air of unpleasantness, with Price apparently wielding power inappropriate to the trail of creditors and anxious former clients he has left behind in Scotland. Some journalists have been banned from the City Ground without adequate explanation, including the Guardian and Observer, after the newspapers' chief football writer, Daniel Taylor, attended a game without writing a match report. Forest said this was a breach of the rules governing journalists' access to football clubs, which it is not.

The Football League is understood to have been aware of Price's activities at Forest for some time, and that he has not declared himself as a director, but it is unclear whether the League has taken any firm action. The League's new chief executive, Shaun Harvey, who was previously chief executive at Leeds United under Ken Bates, is known to have visited Forest to discuss the issue, but the League declined to say what the outcome was. Forest, asked a series of questions by the Guardian about Price's role at the club, declined to comment.
Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Martin Luther King
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