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Chief executive Tom Harrison ignored ECB rules as he ordered Essex to sack chairman John Faragher

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Chief executive Tom Harrison went against ECB rules by ordering Essex to sack their chairman without due process and threatening to withdraw the club’s right to stage England women’s matches if they refused.

A Sportsmail investigation has uncovered a series of regulatory breaches and questionable practices from the governing body in their treatment of former Essex chairman John Faragher, who resigned last November following secret demands made by Harrison and acting chairman Barry O’Brien.

Faragher had been accused of making racially offensive comments at a board meeting in February 2017, which he denies. But with the ECB under pressure for failing to deal with the racism Azeem Rafiq suffered at Yorkshire, Faragher was removed without a chance to defend himself.

Sportsmail can reveal the full extent of the ECB’s heavy-handed and questionable tactics, which will raise further questions over Harrison’s future at Lord’s. They included:

  • Threatening to take England’s women international games away from Chelmsford and suggesting sponsors would desert them if Faragher remained at the club;
  • A call from O’Brien to Faragher on November 11 last year telling him he had to resign at that night’s board meeting, five days before Harrison’s disastrous appearance before the DCMS select committee over the Rafiq affair;
  • Riding rough-shod over the inquiry instigated by their own head of investigations James Pyemont, who on November 9 had emailed Faragher for his response to the allegations and given him eight days to reply;
  • Failing to act after the initial allegations were made in January 2018, when they were mentioned in passing to chairman Colin Graves in a meeting with the complainant, Essex Board member Wasim Haq;
  • Encouraging Essex to delay publication of an independent report the club commissioned into the affair by Katherine Newton QC, which was completed on March 12 this year but has yet to be released amid suspicions it is critical of the ECB;
  • Failing to interview Faragher in their own belated investigation, which it is understood has resulted in Essex being fined £50,000 for failing to launch a formal inquiry in 2018, although that punishment has yet to be made public.

The ECB on Friday night denied making any threats to Essex, although declined to answer detailed questions from Sportsmail on the subject. ‘We completely reject any suggestion that Essex was subjected to any threats by the ECB in relation to this matter,’ said an ECB spokesperson. Essex declined to comment. 

Chief executive Tom Harrison went against ECB rules by ordering Essex to sack their chairman without due process

Chief executive Tom Harrison went against ECB rules by ordering Essex to sack their chairman without due process

Former Essex chairman John Faragher (pictured, left) resigned last November following secret demands made by Harrison and acting chairman Barry O’Brien

Former Essex chairman John Faragher (pictured, left) resigned last November following secret demands made by Harrison and acting chairman Barry O’Brien 

Faragher resigned following the November 11 board meeting at Chelmsford, with the minutes from the meeting revealing that Essex chief executive John Stephenson had felt compelled to act following a conversation with Harrison.

‘The chief executive stated categorically that he had been advised by someone “at the top” of ECB, later clarifying that it was ECB chief executive Tom Harrison, that Essex would lose the right to stage women’s internationals followed by the loss of sponsors, if the club failed to take decisive action immediately,’ the minutes read. 

‘Failure to comply would result in Essex losing the right to stage women’s international matches. Furthermore, the business would possibly suffer a loss of sponsors and reputation. It was noted that this board would be complicit if no action was taken.

‘The board agreed that the instruction from the ECB… “changed everything” and should be complied with immediately. It was discussed that the ECB would not likely accept any outcome other than Faragher standing down on a permanent basis.’

The minutes of the meeting also reveal a phone call Faragher received earlier in the day from O’Brien, who served as acting ECB chair from October 2021 until stepping aside due to ill health earlier this week, but remains on the board.

Harrison threatened to withdraw the club’s right to stage England women’s matches if they refused

Harrison threatened to withdraw the club’s right to stage England women’s matches if they refused

‘John Faragher confirmed that he had been told by Barry O’Brien that very evening that he would be required to stand down as chair at that evening’s board meeting,’ the minutes read.

‘John Faragher was concerned that he was instructed by the ECB to share his response before November 18 but the board had chosen to ignore this deadline and made a decision.’

Sportsmail has also seen an email exchange between Faragher and Pyemont, which concludes with the ECB’s head of pro game investigations setting a deadline of ‘the end of November 17’ to formally respond to the allegations.

That investigation did take place and the ECB’s cricket disciplinary commission reached a verdict last week but Faragher was never interviewed.

The allegations against Faragher first emerged in an email he received from Haq in January 2018, which along with a series of complaints about the chairman’s leadership alleged that he had used the phrase ‘n***** in the woodpile’ at an executive committee meeting in February of the previous year.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of Essex’s general committee the following week on January 18 but no one present corroborated Haq’s account of the previous meeting or said they had heard the offensive phrase so the matter was dropped. Haq is also understood to have complained to Graves at the ECB shortly afterwards but the governing body also took no action.

Wasim Haq reported Faragher for making a racist comment at a board meeting

Wasim Haq reported Faragher for making a racist comment at a board meeting

The issue disappeared until another complaint was made to the ECB in the midst of the Rafiq controversy last autumn, which led to the ECB’s integrity unit launching an investigation before Harrison took matters into his own hands.

Essex also commissioned the Newton report, which is understood to have concluded ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that Faragher did make the offensive remark after two other individuals came forward to support Haq’s version of events, although the six others present at the infamous meeting do not recall it.

Faragher has continued to deny using the phrase but accepts that he should have initiated a formal inquiry in 2018, an oversight he gave as the reason for his resignation last year.

Harrison is expected to leave the ECB later this year, although the threats made under his name to Essex and his apparent disregard for his own regulatory department may lead to calls for him to go sooner.

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