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Former RFU CEO slams Blackett
ESPNscrum Staff
November 30, 2011

Former Rugby Football Union chief executive and chairman Martyn Thomas has demanded Judge Jeff Blackett resign from his post as the RFU's disciplinary officer after he was cleared of a potential misconduct charge.

Thomas, the acting chief executive, called for the departures of Blackett and two council members, after announcing his own decision to stand down from the RFU with immediate effect, over a fortnight earlier than originally planned. Thomas had been criticised in the Blackett Report - compiled with the assistance of council members Geraint Ashton Jones and Malcolm Wharton - into the hiring and firing of John Steele as chief executive.

Blackett had indicated on September 2, during an RFU council debate on a vote of no confidence in Thomas, that he had sufficient evidence to bring disciplinary charges. Charles Flint QC was subsequently engaged by RFU president Willie Wildash to determine whether any action should be taken against Thomas.

Flint's report concluded that there was "no solid evidence which could support a charge" of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game.

Thomas said: "I am obviously pleased by the news today though I have always believed and said that process of the Blackett Report was flawed. I take no pleasure in being proven right as it has turned the Rugby Football Union on its head and caused enormous damage as well as bitter infighting which is deeply regrettable.

"Jeff Blackett and the other RFU council members [Ashton and Wharton] involved in producing the report have caused all this trouble and should do the decent thing and resign immediately."

Twickenham has been riven by political infighting for months, since Steele was forced out of office after being told the board had lost faith in his leadership only nine months into his tenure. The central tenet to that breakdown was Steele's failure to appoint a performance director, with Thomas reportedly anxious for the RFU to bring Sir Clive Woodward back into the fold.

The fall-out from Steele's departure was the catalyst to one of the most tumultuous periods in the RFU's history - and on Tuesday Mike Tindall blasted Twickenham for turning his disciplinary case into a political points scoring exercise. On his return from the World Cup, Tindall was fined £25,000 and dropped from the England squad by elite rugby director Rob Andrew for events surrounding a drunken night out in Queenstown but had that fine reduced and has since been reinstated.

Flint's main focus was on the role of Thomas, in his previous position as RFU chairman, allegedly disclosing information to the press. Flint was unable to review all the evidence contained within the Blackett Report because 19 of those interviewed confidentially, including five directors, refused to allow their evidence to be disclosed.

Flint's eight page report concludes that, in his opinion, there is no evidence to support a misconduct charge against Thomas under the RFU's rule 5.12. Wildash said: "I have now received Charles Flint's opinion. In it he states that there is no basis, on the evidence he has seen, for bringing disciplinary proceedings against any member of the Council."

Thomas was due to stand down from the RFU on December 16. On that day he will also relinquish the chairmanship of England Rugby 2015, the directorship of European Rugby Cup Ltd and step down from the International Rugby Board Council and the Six Nations Committee.

The RFU anticipate announcing the identity of their new chief executive on December 14. The Twickenham executives will remain centre stage on Wednesday, when a board meeting is held to debate the recommendations which have emerged from the critical reviews into England's failed World Cup campaign.

The reports, leaked to The Times last week, were compiled by the RFU, the Rugby Players' Association and the Aviva Premiership clubs and presented to the Professional Game Board. The RFU board meeting could prove pivotal to the future direction of Twickenham and England. The recommendations could include changes to the structure of the elite department and the national team management.

Andrew compiled the RFU report and sits on the management board - but his own role is set to come under close scrutiny.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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