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Whistle was a supporter's pressure group, created by fans of West Ham United that were critical of its Chairman, Terry Brown, following the club's relegation in 2003 and the subsequent sale of many of their top players. In April 2004, the group published a dossier accusing the board of financial incompetence, and asking 180 questions regarding the club's finances. Whistle claimed that around £20 million had been pledged to them by anonymous investors willing to buy into the club via a share issue if major lenders could force Brown to step down. Barclays Bank were the biggest single lender to the club.
Spokesman Mike Hanna was quoted as saying:
"Despite selling all the crown jewels, which you can't sell again, Brown has failed to address the debt situation. We're now a Nationwide First Division club and we are not generating the revenue to handle our current financial position. The banks are begging for a credible alternative. They are waiting for an approach which will handle the debt. We have people associated with ourselves who are influential within the City and would offer the financial institutions an alternative."
Terry Brown and West Ham threatened to initiate legal action towards its members. Brown said at the time:
"We do not have a financial crisis at West Ham and have not had one at any time since our relegation. It is unacceptable that, at such a crucial time in our season, someone should seek to undermine all the hard work of Alan, the players and our staff by issuing information that contains so many lies simply to mislead and demoralise our fans who have given West Ham such fantastic support throughout the season. We will be taking legal action against Mr Hanna and other members of the Whistle group to protect the club from these scurrilous allegations. May I urge every single fan to ignore this nonsense and back our boys."
West Ham's solicitors followed up with a letter to the group:
"We demand that you immediately desist from making any further untrue and defamatory remarks regarding our client. If you fail to provide an undertaking confirming that you will do so, any further such statements will be used to support a claim for aggravated damages in the proceedings our client is going to initiate against you."
Legal proceedings were commenced against three members of Whistle. During 2004, two of the members submitted public apologies.
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Final settlement, of a sorts, was finally reached when Brown conceded in July 2005, via a confidential arbitration conducted by Mark Manley, that his only way out, other than go to court and have his whole shambolic management exposed, was to reach a non financial settlement with Hanna, the only individual to stand firm against the bully boy tactics. Brown and his fellow directors failed to mention this on the West Ham web site, www.whufc.co.uk, despite publicly boasting about the previous two settlements via the same medium, thereby somewhat confirming their ignominious defeat. Hanna never paid a penny to Brown nor ever issued one word of apology, and has always said he will never do either.
Brown continues to be seriously irked by this sequence of events and even took a whole chapter in his sparsely read book Brown Out to give his side of the Whistle story. We[who?] have yet to hear the Whistle side, mainly because with Brown having demonstrated his use of the High Court as an expensive gagging method, four authors to date have declined to write the counter side for fear of being similarly attacked. Hanna continues to seek an author.
Overall: It was unprecedented for a football club to sue its own fans. It was equally unusual for a company to claim libel or slander, a virtual impossible claim to prove from a company against an individual. However the dichotomy revolved around who paid for the highly expensive court action. By using West Ham United, as a company, to conduct this action, Brown avoided using his own limited funds and by so doing further depleted the already exhausted and thin funds of West Ham United. Given that at that time Brown was still servicing the money he borrowed to buy the original controlling West Ham interest, and had not invested any further monies back into West Ham United, he was undoubtedly[according to whom?] without the funds to conduct the court action himself and therefore it is questionable[according to whom?] as to the ethics of further using West Ham United funds, at a time when they were stretched beyond belief, to conduct a personal vendetta.
- "Hammers face power struggle". BBC News. 27 April 2004. Retrieved 28 December 2009.
- Simons, Raoul (29 April 2004). "Battle stations at West Ham". Evening Standard. Archived from the original on 1 May 2004. Retrieved 28 December 2009. (Sourced from the Wayback Machine.)
- Simons, Raoul (6 May 2004). "Brown seeks to gag fans' group". Evening Standard. Retrieved 28 December 2009.
- "No hammer blow for Whistle". breakingnews.ie (Thomas Crosbie Media). 9 July 2004. Retrieved 28 December 2009.