Opinion: Who is to blame in the Hamilton Academical fraud case?

By Lewis McParlane

On October 13 last year Hamilton Academical released a statement from Chairman Les Gray saying that the club had “been the target of an elaborate fraud resulting in the loss of a substantial sum of monies.”

Gray went on to assure that everything would be done to restore the funds and convict those liable in his short 150-word announcement. He pleaded for calm in what he called “one of the most difficult situations we have faced as a club.”

Four months on, and nine defeats later, the club still find themselves in the position they were in last October. Although £170,000 has since been recouped, the mammoth £800,000 still remains out of their grasp and, for a club of Hamilton’s size, they are starting to feel the effects.

Five players have left, one for a price much lower than most Accies fans were happy with, another openly stating on Twitter that his departure was because of the financial issues. Fans have been severely disgruntled online, with many branding the club an embarrassment, as the average home attendance has decreased by almost 1,000 since the fraud scam (2,873 to 1,897). They have even been forced to take £200,000 out of their beloved youth system in order to keep the club afloat.

 

But how did such a massive amount of the club’s wealth get whisked away from under their noses? Was it via a complex cyber-hacking effort that required the manpower of a small army? In all honesty, no. All it took was two phone calls and a good bit of charm.

As reported by STV the hacker managed to convince a member of the finance team that he was calling from the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) fraud team and warned that if a certain amount of money wasn’t temporarily transferred from their three main accounts then thieves would be able to take advantage of the team – how ironic.

An estimated £990,000 was taken out of these accounts over the next two days with a promise of a call on the third day to confirm that everything had gone swimmingly and that the money had been returned as stated. That call never came, and Hamilton Accies now find themselves in a real mess. But who’s really to blame out of the two attacked parties – the club or RBS?

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Despite Chief Executive Colin McGowan claiming that there has to be shared blame taken from both groups, RBS have done nothing wrong and the Lanarkshire team are 100% at fault for their stupid mistakes.

The errors have been truly ghastly with the Premiership side falling victim to one of the most basic hacking attempts. The club operates with only one authorised bank account manager, which means that if the employee never thought to consult with anyone else, then significant funds could be divvied about without any problem. This was the case here except for one short text of confidence to McGowan saying that there had been problems but they were being sorted by the helpful ‘RBS staff member’.

This is the system you would expect when you look further into McGowan’s history as a chief executive. He has in the past stated that “football isn’t [his] passion”, he doesn’t ever go into the boardroom, doesn’t go to away games and only attends home fixtures to meet with sponsors as that is what is expected of him, often leaving early and not knowing the full-time score most of the time. Not exactly what fans want to hear from their CEO.

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Before being at Hamilton, McGowan occupied a similar role at Raith Rovers where, during his reign, he angered fans by threatening to sell off Stark Park in order to build flats on the land. He also appointed Claude Anelka as manager who had no football experience on any level other than being the brother of Nicolas and – in his eight-game tenure of one draw and seven losses – led the Fife team to relegation, which has since been criticised as setting the club back five years.

The man is out of his depth, and has been for years, so the fact that he is still in such a prominent position at a Premiership club is a disgrace the loyal Hamilton fans don’t deserve.

If you’ve still got an inkling that RBS should’ve done something, as they saw the club transfer hundreds of thousands of pounds in such a short period of time, then you can set your confusion to rest as the bank did exactly what a fraud department should do.

After the first two transactions were made, totalling around £110,000, RBS froze the account and instantly got in touch with the club to alert them to their worries. However, the disguised scammer had urged the Hamilton employee to ignore the messages and continue with the payments – and that’s exactly what was done until the scammers were satisfied.

 

The bank did everything right; alert the club to the suspicious activity and then take the word of the person in charge of the bank accounts. The club did everything wrong; a very limited financial security system and a proven lack of footballing knowhow at the top of the board.

I doubt Hamilton Academical will ever see their lost money again as it is now almost five months on from the initial crime and no apparent progress has been made. This has forced the club to make the knee-jerk decision of suing the bank for their hand in this ordeal but, as has been revealed, the bank has seemingly done nothing wrong.

It’s a shame this has had to happen to one of the best clubs known for producing their own talent but, in a country where financial mishaps have been the bane of many clubs, this is sadly just part of the process.

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