Worcester Warriors owners failed to reveal £500,000 loan before securing £15m Covid bail-out

'Save Our Warriors' signs on fences outside Sixways Stadium - PA
'Save Our Warriors' signs on fences outside Sixways Stadium - PA

Worcester’s owners failed to disclose to the Government they had been given £500,000 by Cecil Duckworth before being handed £15 million of taxpayer money during the coronavirus pandemic – despite being required to do so.

Telegraph Sport has been told Colin Goldring and Jason Whittingham did not reveal the existence of what the former has described as “a loan” from the crisis club’s late benefactor when applying for a bailout under the Sports Winter Survival Package.

It can also be revealed Worcester failed to meet two key “obligations” under a “facility agreement” governing their Covid bailout by the deadline of May 31.

Telegraph Sport has seen a 'waiver letter deed' dated Aug 4 and signed by Goldring and Whittingham, which states that the club have been granted a backdated waiver until July 29 to meet those terms.

Asked about the document, Goldring told Telegraph Sport: "There is no truth that we’ve misled DCMS on anything. This waiver ... relates to the timings on a condition subsequent which was then extended."

Applicants for what were long-term Government Covid loans were required to disclose all relevant financial information, which would have included the payment from Duckworth before his death in November 2020.

Local MP Robin Walker told the House of Commons the payment “doesn’t appear in the accounts of the company or its holding companies” and questioned “what other undeclared debts they may have taken on”.

Speaking during an adjournment debate about the plight of a club who are £25m in debt, Walker also accused their owners of lying and proclaimed his “personal revulsion” over their conduct.

The Government responded by announcing the appointment of a task force, which includes Julie Palmer from insolvency specialists Begbies Traynor, to scrutinise Worcester’s finances.

New sports minister Stuart Andrew also said the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport would pursue administration if it was deemed “the most viable option”.

That was after Walker had reiterated his view that immediate administration remained “the only way forward” for Warriors and branded Goldring and Whittingham’s previous claim they had not received help from local politicians a “provable lie”.

However, the MP for Worcester was most scathing about their alleged conduct in relation to a £500,000 loan from Duckworth 10 months prior to his death from cancer.

“What is striking, having now discussed the matter with Cecil’s widow, is that the money was borrowed in January 2020, before the impact of Covid-19 and long before the owners had admitted the financial woes of the club and with the intention of making payroll,” Walker said.

“Within a few years of taking over the club, and when one of their backers pulled out, they went to the great founder of Warriors and borrowed £500,000. Since his death, they have refused to engage with his late widow or her lawyers about the status of this debt or to confirm when and how it will be repaid.

“They have asserted that half of the money is not owed, as a promise was made on the basis of a handshake for Cecil to cover the cost of employing the then manager of the club, Alan Solomons.

“I cannot express in parliamentary terms my personal revulsion for how these people charged with protecting Cecil Duckworth’s legacy have behaved and continue to behave.”

Goldring and Whittingham did not respond to requests for comment on their non-disclosure of the Duckworth payment but the former did issue a rebuttal to Walker’s accusations in an interview with the Worcester News.

Confirming the existence of such a loan, which he confirmed had not been repaid and had been “offset as agreed with Cecil against player sponsorships”, Goldring said he was happy to discuss “the balancing payments” with Duckworth’s widow, Beatrice.

He added: “The statement from Robin Walker is not correct – in particular that any money was paid to Alan Solomons. Cecil’s loan went into the club to pay for players wages. It was pre-lockdown.

“Alan’s only involvement was to agree with Cecil which players he would sponsor to enable the club to retain those key players, something Cecil felt strongly about. Cecil sponsored a handful of players both before and during our period of ownership.”

On accusations of asset-stripping by himself and Whittingham, he said: “None of the rumours about asset stripping are true, the separation of land from club was done at or before our purchase – we inherited that structure. We have used those assets to pay wages and keep the club going as long as we can.”

He also said the pair was “prepared to put the club into administration if that’s in the best interest of creditors and club”.

The Government declined to comment on the non-disclosure of the Duckworth payment, although Telegraph Sport has been told the issue did not affect the validity of its own bailout.