NEWCASTLE fans might be longing for the possibility of rich new owners who will splash the cash to bring talent to Tyneside, but human rights experts have said they will have to ask themselves some difficult moral questions as well.

Mike Ashley is thought to be considering a £340 million deal for the Magpies from a Saudi Arabian consortium led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

If the deal goes ahead it could bring some long-awaited investment to the team at St James’ Park, but ethical concerns have been raised among North-East academics over the human rights record of the oil rich Gulf state.

Ongoing issues include the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the treatment of women, the recent hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone and the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen.

Professor Rhona Smith, head of the law school, at Newcastle University, said: “It is important that concerns are raised and people can make an informed decision about lending their support.

“They are making an ethical choice of their own, it is a moral decision, however there is a very strong loyalty the football engenders among people.

“There will be many people that will be torn and feel that ultimately the loyalty to the club overrides that because owners come and go, as has been proved in recent years, so they are still loyal to the club and what it stands for.

“If a Government does not do anything about it, in a sense of prohibiting it or advising against it, it comes it is up to the club’s owner about who they sell to.

“If there is nothing legal then it becomes much more difficult issue of ethics and the more complicated issue of morals.”

Richard Kotter, chairman of the Newcastle Amnesty International Group, said: “The death penalty is widely used, as is other capital punishment in Saudi Arabia.

“We have live action at Amnesty to do with lifting the ban for driving for women, which has been lifted, but the women who campaigned for that still face 20 years in prison and we have reliable reports they have been tortured and abused in detention.

“All supporters should think about what kind of business they support and give money to.”

A decision on a deal with the consortium fronted by the British financier Amanda Staveley could be made in the next few days.

At least 80 per cent of the funding is believed to be provided by the Saudi Arabia Sovereign Wealth Fund, which is controlled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Amnesty has said the proposed takeover is ‘sportswashing’, or using high profile sport to cleanse a blemished image.

But an online poll of fans at the weekend show 80 per cent were in favour of the move.

Michael Martin, from the Newcastle fanzine True Faith, said the lure of a strengthened squad and the chance of a place in Europe means many fans would look beyond the issues surrounding human rights.

He said: “If the Saudis took over at Newcastle, I seriously doubt there would be any local outcry from a support and a city desperate for investment.

“They would be welcomed not so much with open arms but with an unparalleled euphoria.

“The Saudis are said to be keen on a bit of modernising of their image and football is felt to be one way of doing that. If this were to come off it wouldn’t just represent a massive step change for Newcastle United, it would likely have huge implications for the city of Newcastle and the region as well.”