ANGRY officials at The New Saints – embroiled in a row with Shropshire Council over an £80,000 grant – have told the authority: We’ll see you in court.

The council has said it will take legal action to reclaim the money it says it is owed.

But TNS stress the money was a grant – and that the club have fulfilled every criteria.

And the club’s leading officers say the council has questioned their professional integrity – and unless a full apology is issued by chief executive Clive Wright, they will look into taking action for what they say were defamatory state.

In an exclusive meeting, Saints shared documents with the Advertizer which they say proved the grant was not a loan and that no grounds exist for having to pay it back.

Club owner Mike Harris said: “It all began when we realised UEFA were not going to sign off on our ground for a Champions League match, so in the April we contacted the council, via former leader Keith Barrow, to see if it could help us.

“We were stuck – we weren’t going to be able to play the game here.

“We had had some indication a couple of hundred thousand pounds would be enough to create enough seats to fulfil the UEFA criteria and I said to the council I would find the rest of the money if they had anything to put towards it.

“Keith dropped out of the conversation there – he put it in the direction of the relevant officer at the council.

“The council said there was some money left in a pot – about £80,000 – and I said that would be lovely. I said if they put that in, I’d put the rest in and build the stand.

“Chief operating officer Ian Williams and our financial officer Helen Harris looked after it from then on for TNS.

“The council said if they put the money in, and that they had some good ideas for future projects, would we be supportive? I had a conversation with the council about it and said yes, as long as the ideas weren’t in direct competition with us – such as a plan for a tenpin bowling centre, as we already have one at The Venue – I was in favour.

“They said they didn’t want the money back in any shape or form proving we had achieved our outputs.

“They said they had one pet project in Oswestry they would like to award money to, which would be about £10,000 or £15,000.

“I said that was no problem, if they could be supportive of us to make the stand happen, we could be supportive of that project.

“They were clear we would be invited to sit on the Oswestry Economic Board, who decided who got a grant of £16,000 for five years. We would have a place on the board. That was directed to me personally, as they thought I would have good ideas to add to it, and I said certainly I would. I had time to do it and was more than happy to do it.

“The council legal team made it very clear any contributions from us must be voluntary. We have emails from officers telling us what we had to put in our application and it made it clear any repayments were completely voluntary.

“The application outlined the conditions we had to meet. All those have been met.”

But the Economic Board was disbanded – and as it could not meet, no projects were ever discussed and The New Saints were never asked to contribute to any projects.

Mr Harris said: “We had several meetings with the council and we have the minutes and we kept asking when the committee was being formed. The council said each time they would go away and form it – and every time they went away and we did hear from them again, They never got back to us.

“We have the full meeting notes of every time our company met the council.

“I’m disgusted the way this has come out. They have decided to blacken our name.”

Shropshire Council admits its staff failed to keep track of the grant and that when staff left, no-one took up the project.

But Mr Harris said: “The council is saying its legal advisers are telling them to take action against us. Those same legal advisers are the ones we dealt with in the first instance. They should know what they advised their employees to tell us what to put on our application.

“The people who were there then, and are still there now, know the facts and are trying to blame a council officer who has now left.

“I want a full apology.”

Club chief executive Ian Williams said: “There was a seamless transition with the staff. The two individuals we worked with in 2012 with the application, and who suggested changes to the application, are still there.

“We have had meetings with them since 2014 and at no time during any of those meetings have they told us they need us to pay the money back. All they said was they would set up the committee again so we can be very much part of it.

“That was their condition and that was what we wanted – we wanted to be part of it. We wanted to be involved.”

Mr Harris said the Economic Board may never have met, but in the spirit of the agreement Saints went ahead with a Football Foundation scheme and ploughed thousands of pounds into its own community projects.

He said: “Our organisation can show it has spent on demonstrable charitable outcomes a total of £64,600.

“That doesn’t include people’s time – members of staff paid for by my football club, or my other businesses, who have donated their time free of charge.

“A variety of projects we have been committed to in this area over those four years involving young people, holiday provision, youth and community provision and work with care groups.

“If the board had been meeting and the foundation’s projects had come before it, we would have been pushing for them to be supported. The £64,000 we have put into the foundation has gone to good causes.”

Mr Williams, who runs The New Saints on a day-to-day basis, said: “We have lots of correspondence and emails about the grant process.

“It started in 2012 when the application was processed and the grant was awarded.

“We have a series of emails that clearly showed the council wanted us to change the original application to ensure the wording was any repayments were voluntary, otherwise it would be going into loan territory. It was never designed as a loan.

“In 2012, in separate emails on May 21 and 22, the council made suggestions about the wording and said their legal advisers had told them to change it to the word ‘voluntary’ so any repayments made by TNS were voluntary and not as a condition.

“The signed agreement just refers to ‘outcomes and outputs’, not conditions.”

Saints said they had offered to meet the council to discuss the impasse and to share its dossier of paperwork. Mr Harris said the council had refused to meet.

Mr Williams added: “I have emails where I have asked to meet the leader of the council, who referred me to the chief executive, and the chief executive would only meet on the basis we agreed to pay the £70,000 back. Otherwise he was not prepared to meet us.”

Mr Harris said: “I have spoken to the chief executive – it got quite heated – but the gist was I told him I was at the top of my organisation and that I knew my facts inside out, and did he? He said yes. So I asked whether he was taking full responsibility that if he was wrong, his job was on the line. He said he would take full responsibility.”

Mrs Harris said she asked the council on April 20 for information. “We are still waiting. We haven’t been supplied with any information, We are just being ignored,” she said.

In the council’s internal audit into the affair, it was stated correspondence held by the council had been lost, and emails had been deleted and were not recoverable.

Mr Harris said: “When we met the council originally, the officers were very meticulous in taking notes at meetings. They would have taken pages and pages of notes.

“We have followed every single condition we have said we would do – the money coming into the area, the number of jobs we said we would create. The only thing the council is trying to hang its hat on is its negligence.”

Mr Williams said the agreement with the council specifically mentioned Saints paying grants of £16,000 a year for a period of five years, on projects agreed by the Oswestry Economic Board.

The criteria of the grants would be agreed by the board by December 2012 with delivery of annual grants from January 1, 2013.

“But there was never a vehicle to enable that to happen because the board stopped meeting,” he said.

“There was no vehicle for us sit around a table as a board to discuss projects.

“It was a time-related agreement, from January 2013 for a five-year period.

“The council agreed that and after a meeting in July last year emailed us and acknowledged that in January they would be out of time but that there was still time to get it sorted. We agreed.

“But we didn’t hear anything else from them until January 27 of this year – even though they had promised to be in touch. They never followed it up.”

Mr Harris said: “We can’t be responsible for the council forming a board. It’s not in our gift. It’s down to them.

“If the council has any redress, it’s probably with the people who were tasked to make it happen, a mixture of officers and councillors. Whoever was heading that should perhaps to taken to task. They should not be blackening my organisation, me and my staff.

“They are saying because they didn’t do their bit, our outputs have not been achieved so the grant is in breach so you have to repay the grant.”

Mr Williams said as a gesture of goodwill the football club repaid £10,000 of the grant, even though the council did not meet its conditions.

He said: “On October 23, 2014, the £10,000 was discussed and agreed and paid for. This was even through we were not involved in the process of deciding on the project to be financed, which was meant to happen.

“We heard nothing then until June 2016. We didn’t her from the council. Projects were supposed to monitored every year. There was no monitoring or evaluation process. “

Mr Williams said he understood a third party had raised a Freedom of Information request in July 2016, demanding the council to reveal details about the grant.

He said: “The council came to us and said it had nothing on file and that it needed us to help them.

“How has it managed to lose everything on file?

“We met them and gave them copies of invoices. They had lost everything. Their officers went away with about four pages of notes.”

Subsequently, Mr Williams lodged his own Freedom of Information request with the council.

“I asked a lot of questions and it was turned down on the basis there’s a limit – that can happen when a council says a request would cost too much to fulfil.

“So I stripped it back on April 5 and sent a request for copies of notes and minutes of all meetings held between Shropshire Council and The New Saints FC, together with any correspondence between the two parties either by email or letter.

“I was told in an email it was being dealt with under a separate FoI request and was given a reference number.

“I believe under the FoI legislation I should receive an answer within 20 working days. I still haven’t had it. I’m entitled to that.”

Mr Harris is now demanding an apology and an end to the matter – and says he is prepared to meet the council in a courtroom to solve the issues.

“If we don’t get an apology we will consider taking action against the council for defamation,” he said.

“Helen has a significant financial reputation. Ian, as chief operating officer, has a professional reputation. I have a professional reputation. This has caused us massive damage.

“People believe we are guilty of sharp practice. Ultimately we have paid back the money, albeit in a different way, and can demonstrate that – even though we did not have to.

“We have been working for the community. We can demonstrate paying that £64,000 down to the last button. We have about 50 live projects on the go.

“All these projects would have qualified under the scheme.

“The council has dug itself into a big hole and has kept on digging.

“Its own audit shows there has been no fraud, just bad practice. It has tried to blame predecessors. I don’t think the chief executive has a true appreciation of what has happened.

“The council knows payments were voluntary. It told its staff to make the agreement voluntary. It’s quite clear.

“It stinks of incompetence by the council and it trying to blacken our name to hide behind its own failings.

“If Mr Wright wants to sue, we’ll see him in court. I say bring it on."

Shropshire Council declined to comment.