Goodman claims dirty tricks: Former Air Europe head says BA 'went to unbelievable lengths' to destroy his business

HARRY GOODMAN, former chairman of Air Europe and International Leisure Group, broke a three-year silence yesterday when he accused British Airways of 'going to unbelievable lengths' to bring about the collapse of his business empire.

Mr Goodman, who has issued a writ against BA and nine other defendants, alleges that they conspired in a dirty tricks campaign against Air Europe and its associated companies.

Mr Goodman said: 'I find it sad that a company of the stature of British Airways would go to these lengths. I ran away from it and I did not want to believe it, but the evidence is now overwhelming.'

He said that he had suspected in 1989 that a dirty tricks campaign was under way and expressed his concern in a letter to Lord King of Wartnaby, former chairman of British Airways and now life president. Mr Goodman said that he was subsequently reassured in a letter from Robert Ayling, managing director of BA, that no such campaign existed.

'Perhaps naively, I believed it. When a man like that writes to you, you tend to believe him. I was proved wrong,' he said.

The writ, which has yet to be served, claims damages for conspiracy to injure, wrongful interference with Mr Goodman's business interests, malicious falsehood and breach of European competition law.

In addition to Lord King and Mr Ayling, past and present BA employees named in the writ are: Sir Colin Marshall, chairman of BA; Captain Colin Barnes, a BA board member; Kevin Hatton, former UK sales director at BA; James Callery, former international sales director; and David Burnside, former public affairs director.

Mr Goodman is also suing Brian Basham, the former public relations consultant to BA, and Kroll Associates, a private investigations agency used by BA.

Mr Goodman, who has personal debts of pounds 7m and is receiving legal aid to pursue his action, claims that the campaign led to a climate in which rumours about the group's financial viability were rife, culminating in his financial backers withdrawing support. The business collapsed in March 1991 with the loss of 6,000 jobs.

Mr Goodman said that in the intervening period evidence had come to him that persuaded him to approach the solicitors Pannone and Partners in October 1993.

'I am not frightened of British Airways. I am determined that the truth will be told,' he said.

Stuart McInnes of Pannone and Partners said: 'Regrettably a body of evidence has now come to light leaving Mr Goodman with no alternative but to conclude that a campaign of dirty tricks was indeed in existence and was authorised at the highest levels in British Airways.

'There exists evidence that British Airways obtained access to confidential computer information and also disseminated false information,' he said.

Mr McInnes declined to give details of the dossier of evidence, which is thought to contain at least four affidavits. He also said that no decision would be taken as to when to serve the writs until a meeting next Wednesday with the leading counsel, Barbara Dohmann QC.

Mr McInnes added that while this was a personal action by Mr Goodman, administrators of Air Europe were examining the situation.

British Airways denied any knowledge of anything that justified the claims made in the writ. A spokeswoman said the board had agreed that all past and present employees could be represented by the airline's legal advisers, Linklaters and Paines.

'British Airways will defend itself against his action and is confident that Mr Goodman will fail to make his case,' she said.

British Airways also faces court action in Britain and the US by Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic. Later this month the company must weather the publication of a book by the journalist Martin Gregory, which is believed to contain fresh disclosures about BA's dirty tricks campaign against Virgin.

(Photograph omitted)