A woeful tale of a man who failed to get answers to his questions, so turned whistleblower – only to find himself disciplined by the Association he sought to help. The year-end accounts for the CPSA, published in the members’ magazine show, Legal and Professional costs as over £35K, with solicitors Hewitson-Moorhead’s fees comprising more than £31K. Has all this been spent on hearings disciplining Life member Clive Hames?
The Clay Pigeon Shooting Association (CPSA) has been embroiled in an entirely avoidable battle with the now banned Life member Clive Hames. Sources suggest that this will end up costing over £40,000 in legal bills.
This sad state of affairs can be traced back over more than two years, when Mr Hames, a passionate lifetime CPSA member, initially drew attention to the reporting of inaccurate minutes by the CPSA board on the association website. Mr Hames went on to question the validity of Terry Bobbett’s reappointment as chairman, and highlighted what he saw as failings of the independent director and solicitor Benedict Moorhead – which has resulted in the organisation taking disciplinary proceedings against him.
In November 2013, the 2014 CPSA national director nominations were announced with three candidates: Terry Bobbett, Michele Conway and Clive Hames, though Mr Hames later withdrew. Votes closed on 15 March 2014.
In late March 2014, the CPSA website reported that 969 members had voted in favour of Michele Conway taking the role of national director. She would replace the incumbent national director, and then chairman of the board, Terry Bobbett, who received 680 votes. Having lost his directorship, Mr Bobbett could no longer act as chairman and the board voted David Jellicoe to replace him.
Around the same time, the South West regional director Kevin Newton stepped down. As Mr Bobbett resides in the South West region, Mr Bobbett stood for the vacant South West regional director post. He was unopposed.
On 20 May, he returned to the board, and just over one week later, Mr Jellicoe, who became chairman when Mr Bobbett lost the vote of the wider membership, resigned his chairmanship. Mr Bobbett was then reinstated as chairman by the board of directors.
The democratic process that took place arguably made Mr Bobbett an unelected regional director, and the Articles of the Association fail to address whether or not an unelected director can become chairman of the CPSA. The Articles state: “The directors shall appoint a director to chair their meetings who must be one of the elected directors.” Mr Hames, who had previously, out of goodwill, helped the Association and Mr Bobbett with amendments and suggestions to the former Articles, considered this of sufficient importance to bring to the attention of Nick Fellows, the CPSA chief executive officer, in several emails and letters.
Points of principle
Mr Hames’ key point was that an unopposed appointment to a directorship did not mean the same as the Articles’ requirement to be elected by the membership, and that needed clarification.
The latest version of the CPSA Articles of Association had been drafted by solicitors Moorhead-James in 2013, and on 27 January 2014, a partner from the firm, Benedict Moorhead, joined the CPSA board as an independent director, because his legal knowledge and expertise was viewed as having considerable potential benefit to the Association.
As Mr Moorhead’s firm had been paid to produce the Articles on which the CPSA relies for its governance, Mr Hames requested via email on 5 August 2014 that Mr Moorhead and the board defined whether a director voted in unopposed is still considered to be elected in the Articles to avoid any future issues.
The CEO Mr Fellows responded with advice from Mr Moorhead: “…should [potential national or regional directors] be unchallenged for a vacant position then Article 20.3 makes it clear that no ballot is required. This is simply a pragmatic and time and cost-saving feature of the Articles and in no way does it diminish the status of the ‘elected directors’.” In Mr Fellows’ response, he added: “Mr Moorhead has asked me to point out to you that he will not entertain any discussion with you that involves you copying in so many other people… I concur that this is no way to conduct business and shall be following suit.” There had been considerable interest in the issue, so Mr Hames had copied in other CPSA members he believed to be interested in the governance of the Association, as the issue was being much discussed at county and regional level.
Undeterred, Mr Hames replied saying that the status of a director remains the same regardless of whether or not he or she is elected or ran unopposed, but disputed that it still might not enable the director – unless specifically elected – to be appointed chairman by the other board members. He also quoted the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of the word ‘elect’: “To choose in preference to an alternative.” Fundamentally, though, Mr Hames said that if the CPSA were to clarify the matter with an independent legal opinion – clearly Mr Moorhead could not be independent given that his firm had drafted the Articles – then he would be satisfied and would cease pressing the matter.
But no-one from the CPSA replied to Mr Hames’ continued questioning, despite further email requests – so Mr Hames reported the potential breaches of CPSA Articles to Companies House and also reported Mr Moorhead to the Solicitors Regulation Authority. As Mr Moorhead’s firm had been paid for the work on the Articles by the CPSA, he could not offer an independent legal opinion, and moreover, Mr Moorhead had a conflict of interest in assessing whether the Articles were beyond scrutiny, and he had failed to declare an interest. Mr Hames felt that the board was now refusing to communicate with him as a member harbouring genuine concerns, motivated by goodwill to ensure that the CPSA directors were acting in accordance with the Articles.
“I’ve been a member of the CPSA for over 20 years. I have a balance problem so I shall never be competitive but I enjoy the sport, enjoy the people in the sport, and if I can assist anyone, like helping out youngsters or new people, I will.” – 69-year-old Clive Hames
The chain of correspondence between the CPSA and Mr Hames then descended into threats of disciplinary action from the CEO, Mr Fellows, over the manner of Mr Hames’ questioning. Mr Fellows wrote to Mr Hames in September 2014 to explain that the board would be taking disciplinary action against him because of “misconduct,” as explained under section 17.2 of the Disciplinary Code of Conduct, should he not desist from furthering “such actions.” This “misconduct” amounted to repeated copying-in of parties that Mr Hames believed had an interest in the matter, including CPSA members at regional and county level, as well as some journalists specialising in shooting matters. Mr Hames believed that he had an enhanced duty to the Association in that he was a member of the East Midlands Regional committee, as well as having been involved with assistance in an attempted redraft of the Articles of Association in the past.
Bewildered by the timbre of this correspondence, Mr Hames then asked for details of exactly what this misconduct amounted to, but again, no real reason came back from Mr Fellows. Then in December 2014, correspondence to Mr Hames from Mr Fellows cited reasons for continuing with a full disciplinary hearing as repeated misconduct, and actions in reporting the Association to Companies House and one of the directors to the Solicitors Regulation Authority as amounting to gross misconduct.
All Mr Hames had done was become a whistleblower when, despite repeated requests, the Association had refused to clarify a technical legal point; and because he was not prepared to accept the because-I-say-so attitude of Mr Moorhead over the legal debate over the definition of “unelected” when Mr Moorhead’s firm had been paid for work on the Articles.
With a view to taking legal advice on the matter, the CPSA then engaged Mr Moorhead’s firm, Moorhead-James, and proceeded to take disciplinary action against Mr Hames. Moorhead-James’ Edward Wheen advised the CPSA on the matter and represented them at the hearings – despite his professional partner Mr Moorhead being the alleged victim of Mr Hames’ apparent gross misconduct.
The CPSA brought together a panel to judge the allegations made against Mr Hames. Four board members of the CPSA – Graham Walker, Tony Heeks, David Jellicoe and John Offord – would make up the panel, with CEO Nick Fellows in attendance. But the four members of the board that were to comprise the panel declared that they could not be seen to be impartial and the hearing ended.
Following this, a second, independent panel was appointed that eventually ran across two dates: 24 March and 18 May 2015. It was chaired by Nicholas Stewart QC, with two lay members, Ian Wilson of England Hockey and consultant Rupert Barker. The CPSA asked the panel to consider banning Mr Hames for life, but the three only agreed a ban until 1 January 2017.
The findings and the ban were appealed by Mr Hames and his appeal was heard on 26 January 2016 by the board of directors at the CPSA, including those that had previously declared partiality at the first hearing, except Graham Walker as he had left the board.
Mr Wheen – now partner at Hewitson-Moorhead after Hewitsons and Moorhead-James merged in June 2015 – stepped in as the legal adviser and Mr Bobbett chaired the panel. Any suggestion made by Mr Hames’ counsel that the appeal panel’s make-up and Mr Wheen’s role was a travesty of fairness was brushed aside.
Only an hour for the proceedings had been allocated, meaning the 237 minutes of audio footage that the defence had prepared went largely unheard. Mr Hames’ defence counsel complained that the chairman of the previous panel constantly interrupted proceedings, which took up time and caused the panel to meet for a second day. Mr Hames told Clay Shooting that during the appeal, Mr Bobbett only agreed to listen to a fraction of the audio recordings that evidenced this. He said: “Mr Bobbett just said ‘I’ve got the gist’ and turned to the rest of the board to try and get them to agree to turn it off. Michele Conway said ‘we should hear some more’ and if she hadn’t stood up to him, I don’t think the rest of the board would have agreed to hear any more.”
The appeal against the findings was dismissed and Mr Hames’ ban was upheld until January 2017. No reasons were given for this decision.
A waste of money
To date, sources suggest that the CPSA has spent over £40,000 in banning 69-year-old Clive Hames. For what? For pointing out his concerns regarding the 2013 Articles of Association when he had previously been involved in helping the Association with a redraft of former Articles. It might have been more diplomatic not to copy in many other members at regional and county level, but Article 10 of the Human Rights Act permits freedom of speech provided it is undertaken in a way that doesn’t offend – and while the CEO and directors might not like his style, Mr Hames has always been scrupulously polite in his dealings and is a long way off offensive. Though he might be accused of being particular, persistent and pedantic, the sum total of his interest amounted to ensuring the Association, of which he is a passionate Life member, remained accountable and acted properly.
Mr Hames told Clay Shooting: “I’ve been a member of the CPSA for over 20 years. I have a balance problem so I shall never be competitive but I enjoy the sport, enjoy the people in the sport, and if I can assist anyone, like helping out youngsters or new people, I will. I speak at the AGMs because I don’t want to see money wasted.”
Mr Hames said the next stage would be to take his case to a high court, but that he can’t afford to do so. He will serve the remainder of his ban but continue to shoot and visit clubs to see friends.
A final note: when Mr Hames’ defence counsel pointed out that an appeal by Mr Hames to the High Court would put the CPSA at risk costs-wise of £60,000 and he would be likely to win on the fairness of procedure point, CPSA chairman Mr Bobbett’s reply was simple: “We’re insured.” We hope that the Association’s insurers are content to continue to provide legal cover for customers that pursue pointless legal actions with such obvious signs of unfairness.