A global human rights organisation has slammed the city council’s intervention in the Saudi-led takeover of Newcastle United.

Amnesty International, which has been a fierce critic of the bid, has warned that Newcastle City Council “has an obligation to avoid involvement with human rights violations”.

It comes after civic centre chief executive Pat Ritchie entered the debate on Tuesday – writing to the Premier League to “express my concern and disappointment” over the collapse of a deal that could bring “transformational” investment to the city.

Ms Ritchie joined growing demands from NUFC fans and other key figures in the city for the league to finally provide answers on the failed takeover.

She went further by offering to “share the wider investment ambitions of the partners” with Premier League officials and said the council was “keen to understand if there is an opportunity to pursue a compromise” that could revive the deal.

Peter Frankental, Amnesty International UK’s economics affairs programme director, has cautioned that the potential benefits of the takeover “shouldn’t come at the expense of being able to draw attention to the jailings, torture, executions and the widespread crushing of basic human rights taking place in Saudi Arabia”.

Saudi Arabia’s public investment fund was set to be the main financier of the takeover, working alongside Amanda Staveley and the Reuben brothers, and the gulf state has been accused of trying to “sportswash” its human rights record.

Mr Frankental added: “It’s understandable that Newcastle City Council would be interested in securing investment in the city, but the council should consider the possible human rights implications of an association with the Saudi Arabian government.

“The Saudi authorities have been locking up and torturing peaceful women’s rights activists, while a prominent Saudi journalist was brutally murdered in Istanbul less than two years ago.

“Like any state body, Newcastle City Council has an obligation to avoid involvement with human rights violations and we’d call on it to properly assess the risk of this happening in the event of a revived Saudi buyout of Newcastle United.

“There’s no free lunch here. By co-branding with the Saudi government, Newcastle City Council risks tying its hands over being able to take a stance on human rights – for example over adopting ethical procurement and investment policies.”

Newcastle Central MP Chi Onwurah is also among those calling for answers and transparency from the Premier League, but stopped short of pushing for the takeover to be resurrected in her letter to its chief executive Richard Masters last week.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks to Russian President during the talks in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

The city’s Lib Dem opposition leader, Nick Cott, said Ms Ritchie’s intervention in the NUFC takeover was “cause for concern” and demanded “urgent” clarity on the council’s position.

Coun Cott added: “Newcastle United has been an important part of the leisure life and morale of people in Newcastle for more than a century. But the reality is that it is wholly owned by a private company.

“The proposed sale has been very controversial from both the seller and potential buyers’ point of view. For the chief executive of Newcastle City Council to become involved in assessment via the “fit and proper person” process is a cause for concern, especially as the city council would be required to give permission were developments beyond the purchase of players to be brought forward.”

Ged Bell, one of the city’s top Labour councillors, insisted that Ms Ritchie “was in no way implying that the council should be directly involved in the private affairs of the club”.

The council’s cabinet member for employment and culture said: “As a lifelong Newcastle United fan and season ticket holder the takeover saga has been extremely frustrating, however more concerning is the potential loss of huge citywide investment that this takeover promised.

“The council fully supports the stance our chief executive has outlined in her letter and I am also calling for clarity from the Premier League. It was clear that the focus of the chief executive's letter was on the impact this investment would have on the city and was in no way implying that the council should be directly involved in the private affairs of the club.

“The opposition are wrong to think the chief executive, or any council representative, has been part of the ‘fit and proper person’ assessment, this is a Premier League process that we have no involvement or influence over.

“The chief executive and council was simply calling for an understanding of why a decision had taken so long. We would be calling for that whoever the potential purchaser was.

“A takeover like this can be about much more than football, the club is the heartbeat of our city and the benefits would have reached every corner of Newcastle.”

Coun Bell added that Newcastle is “welcoming, inclusive and diverse” and the council “expects any organisation in our city to share our values”.