THE deadline for the owners of the Newcastle Jesters ice hockey club to open talks with union chiefs passed yesterday with continued silence from the team's bosses.

Players and staff were last night still waiting for pay cheques due on February 28, and believed to total £50,000.

The owners of the club, Fablon of London, and its media and sports arm the Eye Group, have kept tight-lipped over the reasons for lack of payment.

However, it is understood other firms that were owed money have started to be paid this week.

The Ice Hockey Players' Association last week issued club chairman Paul Smith with a deadline for talks before it started instructing lawyers on legal action.

The association represents most of the team.

A bright spot for the club yesterday was news from the Ice Hockey Superleague (ISL) that the Jesters will be playing top flight ice hockey next season.

It had been rumoured that the club would opt to play in the lower level British National League next season, because it was more financially viable.

Mr Smith has refused to rule out such a move.

But ISL chief executive Ian Taylor said this could not happen, as the Jesters were contracted to the league.

"I'm pleased for the fans and, hopefully, they will get a winning team next year," said Mr Taylor.

However, whether any of the present players will want to return to Newcastle is uncertain, with the players due to be paid again at the end of this month and in April.