Bunhill: Air war

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The Independent Online
ONLY three weeks to go before what promises to be the mother of all libel battles and still no sign of peace.

On 11 January, Richard Branson will go into court against Lord King, over claims by the British Airways boss that his Virgin rival lied about a BA 'dirty tricks' campaign against him.

Not to be outdone, Lord King counter-charges that a letter from Branson to BA non- executive directors was defamatory.

Talking to both sides last week, it was clear that the chances of a rapprochement (there have been peace overtures, most notably by a BA non-executive director) appear to have faded. 'We'll be in court on 11 January. That's it as far as we're concerned,' said a Virgin spokesman.

The trial is expected to last 10 to 12 weeks and will contain mud-slinging on an epic scale. No effort is being spared to dig up dirt on the enemy. Every possible manoeuvre is being explored: one of the BA team declares he will grow a beard and wear a baggy jumper and a cheesy grin just to compete with Branson for the hearts and minds of the jury.

In the Virgin corner will be George Carman QC, who needs no introduction. BA will be represented by Christopher Clarke QC, who will give as good as he gets - I am assured by Mervyn Walker, the airline's legal director.

George Carman versus Lord King - it does not bear thinking about.

(Photograph omitted)