BA sued over Air Europe collapse: Former chairman of ILG seeks damages for alleged conspiracy to injure and wrongful interference

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The Independent Online
BRITISH Airways was plunged into a fresh 'dirty tricks' controversy last night after Harry Goodman, former chairman of Air Europe and International Leisure group, issued a writ against BA over the collapse of his business empire three years ago.

The writ, issued yesterday in the High Court by the solicitors Pannone and Partners, seeks damages from BA and nine other defendants, including Sir Colin Marshall, chairman of BA, for alleged conspiracy to injure and wrongful interference with Mr Goodman's business interests.

Mr Goodman is also suing BA for malicious falsehood and breach of European Union competition laws. He is understood to be receiving legal aid.

Apart from Sir Colin, the other serving and former BA executives named in the writ are: Lord King of Wartnaby, the former chairman and now life president; Robert Ayling, managing director; David Burnside, the former director of public affairs; Captain Colin Barnes, a BA board member; Kevin Hatton, former UK sales director; and James Callery, former international sales director.

Mr Goodman is also suing Brian Basham, the former public relations adviser to BA named in last year's High Court settlement of the dirty tricks campaign against Virgin Atlantic, and Kroll Associates, a private investigation agency used by BA.

This latest blow to BA comes on top of court actions pending against the airline in Britain and the United States by Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Atlantic.

BA is also bracing itself for the publication later this month of a book by Martin Gregory, a television journalist, containing fresh revelations about the dirty tricks campaign against Virgin.

Mr Goodman was one of the most controversial and flamboyant characters on the travel scene until ILG and Air Europe crashed with the loss of 2,000 jobs in March 1991, leaving behind debts of pounds 480m.

Since then, ILG's liquidators, KPMG Peat Marwick, has been examining whether to take action against BA for its alleged role in Air Europe's demise.

Former BA staff have already said they accessed Air Europe's computers to obtain information about its passengers.

The liquidators and Air Europe's lawyers are understood to be in possession of a large dossier, including at least four affidavits, alleging that BA was behind a dirty tricks campaign.

The campaign is alleged to have begun in the autumn of 1989 with a sudden flurry of rumours about Air Europe's financial standing among suppliers.

BT demanded a deposit to cover telephone bills, the airline's caterers conducted a financial search and two aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Fokker, contacted Air Europe saying they had heard it might have problems paying for jets that were on order. Air Europe also ended up having to put up a pounds 12m guarantee against payment of landing and parking charges at a number of overseas airports before it could continue to use them.

The airline's staff were finally called to an emergency meeting early in 1990 and asked to supply evidence they might have of a BA smear campaign. This resulted in the four affidavits.

Air Europe executives were still studying the dossier when the airline went bust.

Mr Gregory's book, Dirty Tricks - BA's Secret War Against Virgin Atlantic, published by Little Brown and Co, is due to be launched on 14 March but extracts from it are scheduled to start appearing in the Sunday Times next weekend.

Virgin's High Court action against BA alleging copyright infringement, breach of confidence and misuse of confidential information is due to begin in about three months. Mr Branson is also pursuing an anti-trust action against BA in the US, which could result in damages of dollars 975m ( pounds 660m). A preliminary hearing in the southern district court of New York is scheduled for 1 April.

Virgin has also filed a complaint with the European Commission's competition directorate in Brussels, which is still being studied.

Mr Goodman was not available for comment last night. However, he is holding a press conference at his solicitors' offices this morning to explain why he is taking action.

BA said it could not comment until it had seen a copy of the writ, which has not yet been served.

(Photograph omitted)