G B v Stoke City Football Club Ltd (First Defendant) Peter David Fox (Second Defendant)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeHis Honour Judge Butler,IG
Judgment Date30 October 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] EWHC 2862 (QB)
CourtQueen's Bench Division
Date30 October 2015
Docket NumberCase No: 1PR03779

[2015] EWHC 2862 (QB)




The Law Courts

Preston PR1 2LL


His Honour Judge Butler

(Designated Civil Judge for Cumbria & Lancashire) sitting as a judge of the High Court

Case No: 1PR03779

Stoke City Football Club Limited
First Defendant


Peter David Fox
Second Defendant

Ms A. Weereratne QC (instructed by Smith Partnership) for the Claimant

Mr N. Fewtrell (instructed by Hill Dickinson) for the First Defendant

Mr J. Mulderig (instructed by Farleys) for the Second Defendant

Hearing dates: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 13, 16 & 17 July, 21, 22, 23, 24 & 25 September 2015

His Honour Judge Butler



The claimant, GB, was during the two football seasons of 1986/87 and 1987/88 a youth trainee (apprentice footballer) with the first defendant, Stoke City Football Club Limited (hereinafter called simply "the club"). During those seasons (and indeed between 1978 and 1992) the second defendant, Peter David Fox, was employed as a professional footballer by the club and was the regular first team goalkeeper.


A trial of the preliminary issue of limitation ("the limitation trial") in this case took place over four days between 4 th and 11 th December 2013 and I delivered a reserved judgment on 31 st January 2014. It will be appropriate occasionally to quote from that previous judgment, but I hope to avoid unnecessary repetition and the terms of that judgment should be regarded as being fully incorporated by reference into this judgment. Counsel for all three parties were in agreement that the earlier trial, at which some oral evidence was given by claimant and two witnesses (one also gave evidence at the substantive trial and the other was made the subject of a hearsay notice at that trial), should be regarded as being part of the whole trial process, the procedure adopted having been that sanctioned by the Court of Appeal in B v Nugent Care Society [2009] EWCA Civ 827.


The primary limitation period had expired on 25 th July 1991 but I granted the claimant's application under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 by exercising my discretion to direct that section 11 of the Act should not apply to his present claims against both defendants. I considered that a fair trial would still be possible. He was accordingly enabled to bring these claims notwithstanding that the relevant allegations go back nearly thirty years in time. These claims are based on his allegations that on two occasions, once in 1986 and once in 1987, the second defendant was guilty of trespass to his person (assault by battery). As against the second defendant the claimant claims damages for injury and loss allegedly caused by those tortious acts. As against the club he claims damages on the basis of its vicarious liability for the tortious acts of the second defendant as its employee.


As originally issued and pleaded, the claimant's case included a further claim in the nature of a "direct negligence" claim against the club on the basis that it was in direct breach (by its officers, directors or managers) of a duty of care to take reasonable care for the safety of apprentices and in particular to prevent assaults of any kind being committed upon them by professional players. The additional claim no longer proceeds because I refused to exercise my discretion under section 33 of the 1980 Act to disapply the primary limitation period applicable to that claim. Unlike the statute-barred "direct" claim against the club, the "vicarious" claim against it does not depend upon the club, by its officers, directors or managers, being shown to have been at fault independently of the alleged acts of the second defendant.



The general background facts of the matter and the chronology of relevant events remain relatively uncontroversial. The claimant was born on 25 th July 1970 in Northern Ireland. In early July 1986, shortly before his sixteenth birthday, he moved to England to take up a position as an apprentice with the club, then based at the Victoria Football Ground, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. During the two seasons in question, the club was positioned in League Division Two and during both those seasons the second defendant was its regular first team goalkeeper. He made 477 appearances for the club during his fifteen years' tenure, whereafter he moved on to coaching or managerial work at other football league clubs. At the substantive trial, the claimant told me that it had been his dream to become a professional footballer and, as at the previous hearing, I have had no difficulty whatever in accepting the truth of that statement. In common with other apprentices at that time, he was enrolled as a youth trainee on the youth training scheme (YTS) provided by the government of the day and although much of his time and theirs was spent in training under the general direction of the youth development leader (youth coach) Mr Tony Lacey, he also attended at a local college one full day a week. I remain of the view previously expressed (see paragraph 12 of my judgment dated 31 st January 2014) that the most appropriate description of him at that time would be that he was a "young person", not a "child". He had left school. He attained the age of 16 on 25 th July 1986. No copy of his training contract has survived, but it was accepted that it probably bore the same date as those of others, which have survived, that is to say 7th July 1986. On his own evidence he would have been 16 years old at the time of the first alleged assault and would have been 17 years old by the time of the second alleged assault, although as will be seen the evidence of other witnesses at the substantive trial gave rise to some uncertainty as to whether his recollection of the timing of that second assault (if it happened at all) is correct. Certainly, if he is correct, no apprentice who had already embarked upon his second year of apprenticeship in the season 1986/87 could have witnessed the second assault which he described.


There is one correction and one addition to make to the recital of facts in my earlier judgment. The correction is that at the time of the limitation trial I understood that he had remained at the club until July 1988 (a full two calendar years). However, it now appears from the evidence given at the substantive trial that he probably left at the end of the football season, in about late May 1988, by which time he had been informed by Mr Mills, the first team manager, that he was not to be retained either on a short professional contract or on a non-contract basis. The addition is that I now find as an uncontroversial fact that he remained in Stoke-on-Trent until his return home to Northern Ireland in January 1989 living at his then-girlfriend Catherine's home. Her parents (in fact her mother and stepfather) also lived there.



At the outset of this judgment, I should express my thanks to all three counsel involved in the case, Ms Aswini Weereratne QC for the claimant, Mr Nicholas Fewtrell for the club and Mr Joseph Mulderig for the second defendant. (Mr John McNeill, who represented the second defendant at the trial of the preliminary issue has, as I understand it, since retired from professional practice). All three trial counsel produced detailed written skeleton opening arguments and made clear, thorough and persuasive oral closing submissions. I am grateful to all of them for their industry and for the generally courteous spirit in which the case was conducted between them, notwithstanding that it was necessary for each of them on instructions to put allegations of the most serious and unpleasant nature to the opposing parties and witnesses.



The trial bundle consisted of four full lever arch files, supplemented by a bundle of authorities and by copies of the official transcripts of the evidence of the claimant and the two witnesses whose evidence was called before me orally in December 2013. Those transcripts were (belatedly) obtained because of the agreement that their evidence given at the limitation trial constituted evidence in the substantive trial. It had initially been hoped that the availability of those transcripts might substantially shorten the cross-examination of those witnesses (in particular the claimant) although of course the defendants might also have hoped to make capital out of any differences between what had been said in December 2013 and what would be said in July 2015. As matters turned out, it was not possible for the official transcribers to provide the transcript of the claimant's earlier evidence until after his cross-examination had concluded and so unfortunately it was not possible for that cross-examination to be shortened. The fact of a change of counsel also meant that I considered it to be important not to restrict the ability of Mr Mulderig to challenge the claimant's account comprehensively by cross-examination. The transcripts of the evidence of the two witnesses were available before the former gave evidence at the substantive trial.


As to the specified causes of action which, notwithstanding the delay, I allowed to proceed on the basis that the ability of both defendants to defend had not been materially affected and that a fair trial would be possible, it is important to note that I was not called upon to make any findings of fact at the limitation trial. I am satisfied, from the way in which the substantive trial was conducted and the amount of oral and documentary evidence capable of being adduced, that a 'fair trial' was indeed possible. I do however record the...

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1 firm's commentaries
  • The Lessons That Can Be Learned From Humiliation
    • United Kingdom
    • Mondaq UK
    • 13 November 2015
    ...out of court settlement. A football club with slightly less available is Stoke City. GB v Stoke City and Fox In GB v Stoke City [2015] EWHC 2862 the claimant was an apprentice footballer with Stoke City for whom Fox was the regular first team GB's claims were based on allegations that on tw......

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