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4 Feb 2014

WPBSA Statement – Mike Russell

As a result of incidents at the 2013 World Billiards Championships in Leeds on 18th October 2013, Mike Russell was reported to the WPBSA for alleged breaches of the members’ rules.
 
At a Hearing before the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee that took place on 29th November 2013 in York, Mike Russell admitted two breaches of the WPBSA Disciplinary Rules and after a full hearing he was found guilty of two further breaches of the WPBSA Members Rules.
 
Full details of the finding and sanction imposed can be found below

Mike Russell – WPBSA Disciplinary Committee Hearing 29th November 2013

Introduction

On Saturday 19th October 2013 the WPBSA were asked by World Billiards to consider the allegation that on 18th October 2013 that Mike Russell had assaulted a female delegate (Allegation 1) and had been abusive to Australian Delegates (Allegation 2) in the bar of the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds. This was on the day of the World Billiards Championships qualifying tournament.

On 20th October the Chairman of the WPBSA took the decision to suspend Mr Russell for the following reasons:

– The allegation is serious in that Mr Russell was abusive and threatening to other delegates and that he assaulted a female delegate.
– The allegations now under investigation have generated adverse comment that goes to the integrity and standing of the sport, the WPBSA and its Members. It is important that we maintain the reputation of billiards.
– It would be inappropriate for Mr Russell to take part in any billiards events whilst this matter subject to investigation as it would distract from the event and potentially generate publicity damaging to the sport of billiards.

The suspension was to remain in place until the conclusion of the investigation and any hearing or hearings that may follow and the determination of this matter. This has relevance to the sanction subsequently imposed (see below).

Mr Russell was notified of this in person on 20th October by the WBL Tournament Director.

The following allegations were subsequently made:

3. That Mr Russell threatened Matthew and Neil Bolton at the World Championship Dinner on 20th October 2013, after he had been informed of his suspension

4. That Mr Russell took steps to intimidate the persons making these allegations by abusive messages on Grant Meadley’s social networking site.

5. That Mr Russell used a third party to approach Matthew Bolton with correspondence purporting to come from the WPBSA indicating that the allegation was being downgraded.

After considering the available evidence the Chair of the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee decided that there was a case for Mr Russell to answer in relation to these allegations.

On 29th November the case was heard by the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee in York where Mr Russell was found guilty in relation the allegations at 1-4 and not guilty of count 5.

The Rules

The relevant rules are contained in the WPBSA Members Rules and Regulations.

1.1 Members shall, at all times (i.e. whether at a Tournament or not), behave in a proper and correct manner consistent with their status as professional sportsmen. Members shall not do anything which is likely to intimidate, offend, insult, humiliate or discriminate against any other person on the grounds of disability, their religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin, sex or sexual orientation. 1.2 A Member shall not make or cause to be made any statement or commit or cause to be committed any act which in the reasonable view of the WPBSA is likely to bring into disrepute the games of snooker and/or billiards.

Burden and standard of proof

The burden is on the WPBSA to establish that there has been a breach of the rules.

The standard of proof in these disciplinary proceedings is the civil standard of proof namely on a balance of probabilities. This is specified by WPBSA Disciplinary Rules; Rule 8.1.

Jurisdiction

The question of whether the WPBSA Disciplinary Committee had jurisdiction to hear this case was raised, as it was suggested in correspondence prior to the hearing that the incident happened outwith a WBL event. At the hearing it was accepted by Mr Benson on Mr Russell’s behalf that the WPBSA did have jurisdiction.

Irrespective of this, evidence was before the Disciplinary Committee that Mr Russell had agreed to be subject to WPBSA Disciplinary Rules when he entered the World Billiards Championships. It was the view of the committee that this was binding in relation to his actions at the venue and subsequent actions that were directly linked to the original incidents. Therefore it was the view of the committee that consideration of all the matters alleged did fall within the jurisdiction of the WPBSA.

Evidence and hearing

The evidence presented was in the form of CCTV footage, statements, email accounts and documents. No live witnesses were called.
Although not legally represented, Mr Russell was ably represented by Mr John Benson, an associate from Billiards.

Mr Benson said that Mr Russell admitted the breaches of WPBSA Members Rules as alleged in relation to the following:

1. Striking Anna Lynch, an Australian Delegate, in the side of the head on 18th October 2013 at the Northern Snooker Centre.

4. Taking steps to intimidate the persons making these allegations by abusive messages on Grant Meadley’s social networking site
Contrary to rules 1.1 and 1.2 of the WPBSA Members Rules

He did not admit the following:

2. Being abusive to the Australian Delegates on 18th October 2013 in the bar of the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds.

3. Having threatened Matthew and Neil Bolton at the World Billiards Championship Dinner on 20th October 2013, after being informed of a suspension imposed following the incident referred to above. 

5. Having used a third party to approach Matthew Bolton with correspondence purporting to come from the WPBSA indicating that the allegation was being downgraded contrary to rules 1.1 and 1.2 of the WPBSA Members Rules

The Case against Mr Russell

The alleged assault on Anna Lynch was captured on CCTV footage. This also captured Mr Russell sitting with the group prior to the assault where there was no sound but his body language and movements could be considered.

The Disciplinary Committee also considered evidence in statement form from Anna Lynch, Matthew Bolton, Devendra Joshi, Grant Meadley, Peter Tankard, Michael Pearson and Neil Bolton.

A further statement of Matthew Bolton regarding the threats made to Mr Bolton at the World Billiards Championship Dinner was also considered.
The screen captures from social networking sites placed by Mr Russell were produced in evidence.

The evidence of the approach made to Matthew Bolton in Australia was evidenced by an email from him. The only evidence that could be considered in relation to this was this email and that the person knew of details of the confidential letters sent to Mr Russell from the WPBSA.

The Committee also took into account the evidence given by Mr John Benson (and the points put forward by him) at the hearing and correspondence from Mr Russell.

Mr Benson’s Response on behalf of Mr Russell

Mr Benson stated that the events leading up to these incidents started a year ago when Matthew Bolton played Mr Russell in the final of the Jim Williamson Open. Mr Bolton witnessed Mr Russell getting a drink of vodka at the bar. This was reported to the Tournament Director who challenged Mr Russell regarding it. He said that Mr Russell thought that this was “a sneaky thing to do”. He had not seen the Australians since that incident until the World Championships.

On the night of the first incident referred to above, he said that Mr Russell was in good spirits and he had gone to the bar for three or four minutes and then returned. He said that in his view Mr Russell’s demeanour had not changed. . Mr Benson was unaware of what had taken place until the next morning. He said that Mr Russell had offered an apology to Anna Lynch but that had been refused.

He said that this was a comparatively minor incident that was allowed to escalate and that although Mr Russell accepted that he had struck Anna Lynch it was more of a gentle tap than with any real force.

He said that Mr Russell denied abusing the Australian delegates, but that it was just “banter”.

He said that Mr Russell’s view was that he had not hit Anna Lynch but as he had got up to leave she had made a remark to him where she said words to the effect “You know you shouldn’t be drinking so you’re a shit too”. Mr Russell had said “watch your tongue “ and at no time had he intended to hit her.

Mr Benson said that on the Sunday night Mr Russell had been in a good mood and was spending time getting ready for the World Championships. Mr Benson had gone up to the buffet and had been the width of the room apart from Matthew and Neil Bolton. He had seen Mr Russell come in and go over to the Boltons. He heard raised voices and seen Mr Russell finger wagging towards the Boltons. He said that he had thought that there was going to be trouble very shortly and that he was the only person who could get Mr Russell under control. When Mr Russell saw him coming he backed off. Mr Russell had shown him the suspension letter and said “read this the bastards have banned me”.

Mr Benson said that Mr Russell regretted the incident with Anna Lynch; he also regretted the approach he made to the Boltons at the Buffet dinner.
Mr Benson said that Mr Russell was bitter as a result of missing the World championships and had made statements on social networking sites. He regretted these and removed them.

He described Mr Russell’s background and stated that he is very direct and calls things as he sees them. He said that when he has a drink his character changes. He said that people buy him drinks and he does let himself go a bit and that he was not an angel but he was a good guy.

He said that the behaviour of Anna Lynch was crude and she did not care what she said to people.

He stated that the Australians were generating ill feeling towards Mr Russell and that they wanted him out of the tournament. With him out of the tournament it would be easier for Mr Matthew Bolton to become world champion.

He said that Mr Russell is rude to people when drunk but he had not seen him threaten anybody.

CCTV Footage

The CTV footage was viewed and Mr Benson maintained that it showed that there was no force behind the blow struck to Anna Lynch by Mr Russell.

Findings

1. Mr Russell admitted the assault and was found to be in breach of rules 1.1 and 1.2. The Committee viewed the CCTV footage of the incident and were of the view that Mr Russell struck Anna Lynch with sufficient force to move her head sharply sideways. The Committee did not accept the account put forward by Mr Benson on behalf of Mr Russell that there was no force in the blow. Although there were some inconsistencies in the statements provided to the Committee, they were able to rely on the CCTV footage in making the decision.

2. Mr Russell denied being abusive to the Australian delegates. The Committee considered the statements made by persons present and despite some differences in their accounts they considered that Mr Russell had been abusive towards them. The CCTV footage shows Mr Russell pointing his finger at the delegates. In addition to this there was a statement from Mr Joshi referring to there being an argument. The CCTV footage did not reflect the account Mr Russell posted on the internet. The Committee were of the view that it was highly likely that Mr Russell was abusive towards the Australian delegates and this satisfied the standard of proof required to find Mr Russell to be in breach of rules 1.1 and 1.2 on this allegation.

3. Mr Russell denied this allegation and the Committee considered the evidence of Matthew Bolton and that provided by Mr Benson on behalf of Mr Russell. Mr Benson was a witness to the events and said that there were raised voices and fingerpointing by Mr Russell towards Matthew Bolton. On Mr Benson’s account he said that he thought there was going to be trouble in a moment and that he was the only person who could get Mr Russell under control. At the point of his intervention he said that Mr Russell backed off. The Committee were reliant on these accounts as there was no formal account put forward by Mr Russell, only from Mr Benson on his behalf. The allegation that Mr Russell had been threatening towards Matthew and Neil Bolton was supported by the statement of Mr Bolton and also by Mr Benson’s own account of the incident (where he clearly indicated that Mr Russell was out of control having just been notified of his suspension). This was also supported by the later intimidatory posts made by Mr Russell on social networking sites. The Committee were satisfied that the evidence supported this to the required standard of proof and found Mr Russell to be in breach of rule 1.1 and 1.2.

4. This was admitted by Mr Russell. The Committee were able to view the screenshots of the messages posted by Mr Russell and were of the view that they were intimidatory.

5. There was insufficient evidence and other material for the Committee to consider this allegation and Mr Russell was not found to be in breach of the rules.

Sanction

The Committee had real concerns regarding Mr Russell’s responses to the allegations, his lack of contrition regarding his behaviour and his prevarication when dealing with the requests made by the WPBSA in relation to an expedient disposal of this case.
The Committee were fortunate that there was CCTV footage available and other corroboration which helped in making the decisions and the findings.
The Committee had concerns regarding Mr Russell’s drinking at events and how this changes his character and have taken into account Mr Russell’s previous referral to the WPBSA from a year earlier.
The Committee heard from Mr Benson after the finding on potential sentence and his points were considered. The fact that his suspension had caused him to miss the World Championships and the likely possibility of earning prize money from the event and the preventative aspect of the sanction
were considered in seeking to avoid any recurrence of his behaviour.
The Committee wanted to make it clear that any recurrence of this behaviour would be treated very seriously by the WPBSA.
The sanction imposed by the Disciplinary Committee is a 12 months suspension from attending or competing in WBL events. All but three months of this will be suspended.
Should he be found guilty of any breach of the WPBSA Rules up to and including the 2014 World Billiards Championship final, the Disciplinary Committee will, unless there are extreme mitigating circumstances, impose the deferred nine months of the suspension in addition to any penalty that may be imposed for the new and separate offence. This means that Mr Russell will, in the absence of any other breaches, be free to attend and compete in WBL events from 20th January 2014. He was ordered to pay £500 towards the costs of the case.

WPBSA Disciplinary Committee
Nigel Mawer QPM – Chair
Tim Ollerenshaw
Gordon McKay