Branson denies embellishing lottery bribe allegation

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Richard Branson was under fire in the witness box yesterday, accused of embellishing his evidence in the libel trial involving allegations that an attempt was made to bribe him by the head of the US lottery firm GTech. Andrew Buncombe was present as the temperature in the High Court began to rise.

Virgin boss Richard Branson was yesterday accused of embellishing his evidence to strengthen his allegation that a rival tried to bribe him.

In a series of heated exchanges, Richard Ferguson, QC, repeatedly questioned Mr Branson over the absence of a written record of certain words that the entrepreneur claimed was said to him.

In particular, the QC wanted to know why his claim that Guy Snowden - head of GTech had asked him whether the phrase "something we can do for you personally" did not appear in the notes he made of the alleged conversation.

"I suggest to you that the addition of this section including the word 'personally' was an embellishment, an addition made by you or on your behalf ... to try and strengthen your case that what was said by Mr Snowden amounted to a bribe."

Mr Branson replied: "There was nothing that needed strengthening in this case. I do not embellish things. I was utterly, absolutely clear what Mr Snowden said to me."

Mr Branson alleged on a BBC Panorama programme broadcast in 1995 that Mr Snowden had tried to bribe him two years earlier to drop his bid to run the National Lottery for no profit. Mr Branson is suing Mr Snowden, GTech, one of the major shareholders in National Lottery operator Camelot, and its spokesman Robert Rendine, after they dismissed his allegations as false. He in turn is being sued over his original accusation.

Much of the case yesterday focused on a piece of paper on which Mr Branson said he had noted down Mr Snowden's alleged bribe offer.

When Mr Ferguson pressed him about the note, Mr Branson protested: "With respect, you are not saying I am lying, but seem to be questioning my integrity."

The QC replied: "Mr Branson you are very sensitive. I can assure you that if I am questioning your integrity you will surely know about it."

The case continues.