PUBLICANS have scored a legal victory over broadcasting giants Sky after a long-running battle on the right to televise English Premier League football matches.
John Gorman and Agnes Oates were in the dock accused of dishonestly receiving pictures of games with intent to avoid payment.
But the charges have now been thrown out and one sheriff last week questioned why they had ever been brought in the first place.
Mr Gorman (73), licensee of Motherwell’s Woodcutter Bar, and his premises manager, Donald Young, were forced to make several appearances at Hamilton Sheriff Court as the case dragged on.
Witnesses in the trial included a Sky executive who insisted only pubs who sign up to their TV package can show games in the United Kingdom.
The court heard some pubs including the Woodcutter got a much cheaper deal using Glasgow-based Millan Leisure who, in turn, obtained pictures from a company in Albania.
Mr Gorman was paying £250 a month to screen matches - four times cheaper than the Sky price.
Last year a pub landlady in Portsmouth won the right to screen English Premier League football using a Greek broadcasting company after the European Court ruled that Sky’s ‘exclusive’ system was contrary to EU law.
And last month former Celtic player Harry Hood was given the go-ahead to sue the Scottish Premier League for £1.7 million. He claims a ban on him screening matches using foreign satellite equipment had hit business at his pub Angels in Uddingston.
The Crown insisted on prosecuting Mr Gorman, Mrs Oates, of New Stevenston’s Red Lion, and Robert Douglas, of Bellshill’s Burns Bar on the basis that they got pictures from Albania, which is not covered by EU law.
However, the charges against all three have now been thrown out after separate trials collapsed.
The court heard that Millan Leisure had assured customers its football television package was legal.
Mr Gorman’s solicitor, Robert Sheridan, argued successfully last week that there was no evidence of dishonesty.
Sheriff David Bicket agreed, saying: “There is no evidence Mr Gorman intended to avoid paying for matches. Clearly he had a contract - it just wasn’t with Sky.”
The sheriff added: “If there was any dishonesty - and I’m not saying there was - it puzzles me why Mr Gorman was prosecuted and not the company supplying the service alleged to be dishonest.”
Outside court Mr Gorman expressed relief that the case, which had been hanging over him for nearly two and a half years, was finally over.
He said: “I never thought I was guilty so I wasn’t worried about the outcome. It was just the length of time it took.
“I still have a contract with Millan Leisure, but now the pictures are from the EU.”
Mrs Oates also went on trial, but before the evidence could be completed the Crown dropped the charges.
She said: “This was a waste of police time and resources.
“I pay £420 a month for a football package and the company insisted it was above board.
“Being in the dock was really stressful and now despite the verdict I have a lawyer’s bill to pay.
“But Sky are a huge organisation and there is some satisfaction that it has gone in our favour.”