A High Court judge has said he did not trust two American businessmen who used to own Liverpool Football Club.
Mr Justice Peter Smith said Tom Hicks and George Gillett had "demonstrated" that they would "abuse" the court process if it suited them. Texas-based Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett lost control of Liverpool when the club was sold to New England Sports Ventures - headed by another American businessman, John W Henry - in a £300 million deal in October 2010.
The judge criticised Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett when hearing evidence at the High Court in London during the latest phase of litigation launched following the sale. And he refused to allow Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett to have "full and unrestricted" access to private documentation featuring in the litigation because of fears about "potential misconduct".
The judge said an American lawyer representing Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett had twice misled an American court in October 2010 following the Liverpool sale. He said Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett had given "no credible explanation" for that lawyer's behaviour and suggested they had taken a "Manuel-esque - 'I know nothing'" stance.
"I do not trust your clients," the judge told British lawyers representing Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett in the current High Court litigation. "(They) have demonstrated that if it suits them, they will abuse the process."
Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett tried and failed to block the sale of Liverpool before launching damages claims in which they alleged that the club was sold at a "substantial undervalue" and said the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) and then Liverpool directors had "deliberately" blocked their attempts to "refinance". RBS bosses and directors dispute the allegations.
In March, bank bosses involved in the sale asked Mr Justice Peter Smith to declare them not guilty of "any dishonesty or corruption". Lawyers representing the RBS said Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett had alleged a "grand conspiracy" but failed to produce "any evidence".
The bank asked for declarations of innocence at a High Court hearing in London. Mr Justice Peter Smith adjourned that hearing to allow lawyers representing Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett to study more documentation produced by RBS. It is expected to resume in the near future.
Lawyers representing Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett asked for permission to give their clients unrestricted access to the documentation. RBS was opposed and said - given that their lawyer had "misled" an American court in October 2010 - Mr Hicks and Mr Gillett "couldn't be trusted" with the documents. Mr Justice Peter Smith sided with RBS.
"In my view that was and remains a legitimate concern," he said. "They are entitled to be fearful about potential misconduct."