Branson to demand 'millions' from BA

RICHARD BRANSON will demand 'many millions of pounds' in compensation from British Airways when he meets Sir Colin Marshall, the airline's beleaguered chief executive, tomorrow. The claim follows BA's apology for running a dirty tricks campaign against Mr Branson's airline, Virgin Atlantic.

According to a senior Virgin insider, Mr Branson will also ask for:

A legally binding agreement for all airlines using Babs, the computerised BA bookings system, not to access each other's data.

Sharing of some maintenance facilities and resources between BA and Virgin, as they did five years ago.

More co-operation in areas of mutual concern such as safety and training.

Mr Branson, said the Virgin source, does not want extra landing and take- off slots, 'because that is a matter for the government, not BA'. Nor will he ask for resignations of the BA executives responsible. But he will tell Sir Colin that unless the demands are met, Virgin will consider legal action on three fronts: in the UK, for breach of copyright and data protection rules; in the US, for anti-trust violations; and with the European Commission, for anti-competitive activities.

No other people are expected to be present at the meeting.

Further evidence has also emerged to link senior BA executives with the attack on Virgin. A former BA employee has said in an affidavit that the 'setting up of a unit to look at ways of undermining or discrediting Richard Branson was a policy decision which must have originated at the highest level within BA'.

He said he believed the shredding of documents relating to the dirty tricks 'was not just limited to my department but happened across the whole company'.

The behaviour of staff towards Virgin could be explained by an 'environment created at the very top of the organisation and most individuals were reacting in a way that reflected their concern that if they too did not take a very aggressive line then they might be regarded as weak or lacking', the affidavit said.

Last week, after a review by Linklaters & Paines, BA's solicitors, the board said there had not been any 'wide-ranging conspiracy' to undermine Virgin. The board had received assurances from each member that he did not 'implement or authorise any of the disreputable activities'.

Meanwhile, the long-term future of David Burnside, BA's powerful public affairs chief, remains unclear. On Thursday senior BA sources said he was departing. On Friday, after meeting Sir Colin and having lunch with Lord King and Sir Tim Bell, the replacement for Brian Basham, the external PR consultant whose contract will not be renewed, he stayed.

He is believed to have challenged the board to explain his forced resignation. He is also understood to have written to each non-executive director enclosing a list of 80 politicians, Cabinet members and journalists whom the board could ask whether he had been involved in dirty tricks. But Mr Burnside is close to Lord King, BA's chairman, and unlikely to stay much beyond his retirement in June.

(Photograph omitted)

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