Leeds United’s former technical director has brought a High Court damages claim over his dismissal for sending an email containing “obscene” images of naked women in the shower.
Gwyn Williams, 66, who was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct in July 2013, is seeking up to £250,000 in compensation for breach of contract.
He claims that the email he sent to ex-Chelsea colleague Dennis Wise, Gus Poyet - now head coach of Sunderland - and Carol Lamb, a receptionist at the club, was part of a “dirty Leeds” joke, referring to the club’s reputation for heavy tackling in the 1970s.
His counsel, Daniel Barnett, has told Mr Justice Lewis at London’s High Court that an attachment to the March 2008 email contained some images of a “Benny Hill” or “saucy postcard” nature while others went a little further, showing genitalia and women hugging and caressing each other.
“But they fall considerably short of hard-core pornography, or images that are likely to shock and disturb. They are innocuous in nature,” he said.
Mr Williams, who joined Leeds in August 2006 at an annual salary of £200,000 plus benefits, argues that forwarding the email to three friends was not sufficiently serious to amount to a repudiatory breach of contract - while the club says it was.
He says that five years and eight months elapsed before it was discovered by the club, while allegedly conducting a forensic examination to find a reason to justify not paying him his notice.
Mr Barnett said: “The sole remaining issue is whether forwarding an email containing vulgar images goes suffficiently to the root of the employment contract to justify dismissal without notice.”
Mr Williams agreed with the club’s counsel, Fraser Campbell, that, as a matter of commonsense, people should not forward pornography from their work emails and it was particularly inappropriate for someone in a position of responsibility who was supposed to be setting an example to young people and whose actions might be of interest to the press.
Mr Campbell: “We can probably agree that it was inappropriate, it was dangerous and it was worrying, wasn’t it?”
Mr Williams: “Correct.”
Referring to one of the images, Mr Campbell asked: “Would you agree it’s obscene?”
Mr Williams: “Yes.”
Mr Campbell: “And by the word `obscene’, more than just racy, risque, rude. It means explicit and probably likely to offend many people?”
Mr Williams: “It could do, yes.”
Mr Williams said that he sent the email, which he agreed contained other images that were obscene, to the two men to amuse and titillate them. Looking back, he accepted it was something he should not have done.
“From 1970, Leeds was known as `dirty Leeds’ and these were forwarded to me on the basis that these were muddy girls in a shower getting clean and that was the basis I sent them out. Rather than the content, it was the dirty Leeds issue.”
He added: “Obviously, one or two of them go a little bit further, but that was the general theme of it.”
Mr Williams was asked about why he sent the email to Miss Lamb, who Mr Campbell described as a good-looking single mother, who was half Mr Williams’s age and on a fraction of his salary.
Mr Williams said that Miss Lamb was “a good kid” and “Leeds United mad”, and he thought she would appreciate the email and “have a giggle about it.”
“But I was wrong - I shouldn’t have sent it,” he told the judge.
Mr Campbell: “ You understand just how bad it looks to an outside observer when a senior older well-connected manager singles out a young junior female receptionist out of all the people in the club to send an obscene email to?”
Mr Williams: “I agree.”
Mr Campbell: “In your statement, you say it probably falls short of best practice. To an outside observer, it looks like absolutely standard sexual harassment, doesn’t it?”
Mr Williams: “No, we had a good relationship in the work environment. I incorrectly assumed that it wouldn’t offend her and I sent it on a whim, on the dirty Leeds thing.”
The hearing, which is likely to last up to three days, was adjourned until tomorrow.