By ANTON RIPPON
Former Sunday Express sports journalist Colin Mafham has accepted a “substantial” settlement from publisher Reach plc after the paper suspended him and then sacked him following publication of an article in which he said that Liverpool supporters “frightened the living daylights” out of him.
Mafham wrote the on-line piece after Liverpool’s Champions League semi-final against Roma in which a Liverpool fan was left in a coma and referred to an earlier incident when fans threw bottles at Manchester City’s team bus as it arrived at Anfield.
In the piece Mafham (pictured above) asked: “Why does trouble seem to follow them like bees around a honey pot?”
Mafham said he hoped fans would learn from both the 1989 Hillsborough disaster, where 96 people were judged to have been unlawfully killed, and the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster that resulted in 39 deaths and saw 14 Liverpool supporters jailed for manslaughter. He feared that the latest generation of the club’s supporters “could well add another chapter to England’s footballing book of condolences”.
After the piece was published, David Prentice, head of sport at the Liverpool Echo, another Reach title, called it “vile, presumptuous and repugnant”. Sunday Express editor Gary Jones, himself a Liverpool fan, personally apologised to Liverpool’s mayor, and the newspaper issued an apology calling Mafham’s words “ill-informed and wrong”. After an on-line backlash the article was taken down and Mafham was suspended from the Express, where he had spent 15 years on contract.
Following an internal investigation and disciplinary hearing he was fired in June 2018 for “gross misconduct”. A month later his appeal against dismissal was denied. Mafham described his dismissal as a “gag on freedom of speech” and a “terribly unjust slur” which had ended his 50-year career in journalism.
At the time Reach said: “When journalists are given a platform for their opinions, it comes with the quid pro quo that what they write is to be founded on fact and reasoned argument.”
After turning down as “derisory” at least one cash settlement offer through arbitrator ACAS, Mafham vowed to rectify the damage done to his reputation. Asked why he had refused the settlement, Mafham told Press Gazette: “Because it in no way represents the pain and the humiliation that I have suffered as a result of this action.” He said that rectifying the “needless damage” to his reputation was of paramount importance to him.
An employment tribunal was due to hear his case for unfair dismissal on 27 April this year but last month Mafham accepted an undisclosed but substantial cash offer from Reach which came with an “expression of regret” about events.
A Reach spokesperson said: “This is a confidential matter and we cannot comment on technicalities of specific cases. We stand by our previous response that freedom of expression for journalists is not a free pass to publish ill-informed, inaccurate, and misjudged comments.”