Professor Barrie Rickards is President of the Lure Angling Society, and President of the National Association of Specialist Anglers as well as a very experienced and successful specialist angler with a considerable tally of big fish to his credit.

He is author of several fishing books, including the classic work ‘Fishing For Big Pike’, co-authored with the late Ray Webb and only recently his first novel, ‘Fishers On The Green Roads’ was published. He has been an angling writer in newspapers and magazines for nigh on four decades. Barrie takes a keen interest in angling politics.

Away from angling Barrie is a Professor in Palaeontology at the University of Cambridge, a Fellow of Emmanuel College and a curator of the Sedgwick Museum of Geology.

Over forty years ago I became a life member of the Anglers’ Co-operative Association, now known as the Anglers’ Conservation Association (ACA) because I thought then, as I think now, that it is an extremely important pollution fighting organisation. Now we learn that the ACA has a crisis on its hands with the suspension of its Director, Jane James and her husband (ACA PR Manager) Bob James. As a life member I have no idea what is going on only that some matters are being investigated. It would seem that at the time of the suspensions all parties agreed to a confidentiality position until the matter was sorted – at least that was the position ACA officials were quoted on in Angling Times (9th November issue, p.4). Clearly, however, the matter has got into the media and there have been several reports in the past few weeks, and Bob James was quoted in AT on 2nd November for example.

Whether that breaks a confidentiality code I don’t know, but pressure from the media as a whole presumably prompted the ACA statement of 9 November, which I feel is worth quoting more or less in full:

“This investigation is about various matters brought to the attention of the ACA’s directors, who have a clear duty to investigate them. The ACA has done all in its power to expedite a satisfactory, swift and confidential resolution. Matters remain unresolved at present solely due to Mrs James being signed off sick. We have not sought media attention, instead respecting agreements between all parties that this matter remains confidential until resolved.”

Now, as it happens, I know a little about employment law, for reasons I’ll not go into here, and one thing is absolutely sure; if the ACA have received disturbing reports then it has a legal duty to investigate and, moreover, the procedures to be followed (if due protection is to be given to those accused) are laid down very carefully. I do not think confidentiality is a legal requirement, but it is often regarded as desirable for all concerned. But a series of steps have to be taken and I believe the ACA is taking these.

The downside of all this is twofold; firstly, long standing members, such as myself, have to wait until procedures have finished before we know what went on, and I’m sure lots of you guys are in the same position as I am (and when we do find out it will be from the press, not from our organisation!) and secondly, its almost impossible to keep such a matter confidential, and rumour soon begets rumour and matters get out of hand.

The latest turn of events (AT November 9 and the forum on FISHINGmagic) is that some ACA members are calling for a crisis meeting “to clear up the confusion surrounding the suspension of Bob and Jane James”. Is there any confusion? If the ACA are following procedures properly then the matter will be cleared up once Jane James is well enough to be interviewed. Will such a meeting clear matters up anyway, given that only a set of procedures, carefully adhered to, can do that? Of course, such a meeting might well tell me what the accusations are – I’m assuming those planning the meeting know this – but, again, does this help us legally? Will it bring conclusions to procedures before Jane James can be seen? Is it not that one factor that is holding things up?

It is important that this problem is cleared up, for the sake of the ACA and its standing in the community of anglers. The President, Chris Tarrant, and ACA members Mick Watson and Neil Leaver are calling the crisis meeting. You would have thought that the President would have been kept in the loop here, and if Chris is worried then possibly we all ought to be worried. That is disturbing.

Almost equally disturbing are the remarks Bob James is reported as having said, namely:

“Everybody who knows the allegations levelled at me have laughed. They are the kind of things done in offices across the country every day. Unless there is a quick resolution I will prove I have nothing to hide by going public and letting the nation’s anglers decide.”

The second sentence of that quote worries me; and isn’t the rest a threat, to long-established procedures only held up because Jane James is ill? Aren’t the waters being muddied here? Unnecessarily so, perhaps? And those of us in the outfield are still in the dark.

I think I can see the rationale behind a crisis meeting, not least because those of us in ignorance might be better informed. The best information I should like to have is that procedures had been completed, the matter resolved, and the two of them reinstated with their names cleared.

Whilst we are on the subject let us wish Jane James a speedy recovery, and let us hope too that the waters are not muddied further, and that neither the ACA nor the James are put under undue pressure causing them to act other than procedurally and with the interest of the ACA uppermost.