Virgin and BA clash again in `dirty tricks' row

RUSSELL HOTTEN

Hostilities between Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic and British Airways burst into the open again last night over the final settlement of the four-year "dirty tricks" row.

BA issued a statement that Virgin had agreed to pay it pounds 398,000 in costs, concluding the companies' dispute over alleged computer misuse.

Virgin's pounds 29m claim for damages against BA never got to court in the UK. Virgin brought the action against BA as an off-shoot of the dirty tricks affair, which saw BA pay Mr Branson libel damages in an out-of- court settlement.

In the computer misuse case, each side had agreed to pay a proportion of the other's costs. Virgin accepted a settlement of pounds 265,000 from BA last year and has now agreed to pay pounds 398,000 of its own. Virgin's spokesman, Will Whitehorn, said the UK settlement was agreed last year and claimed that BA was trying to pretend that Richard Branson's company was backing down.

BA sources expressed extreme irritation at the comments, saying they were fed up with Virgin trying make political capital out of the matter that was now over.

Virgin is still pursuing an anti-trust case against BA in the American courts and believes the dirty tricks issue will be an important part of the background.

But BA says the dirty tricks affair is now over and the US action is a separate issue.

Bob Ayling, BA's chief executive, said: "I am pleased that since 1993 there has been a more normal relationship between the two companies. I hope this will now continue because today's agreement finally closes off the issues between us in the UK."

Mr Ayling said the three outstanding complaints against BA in Virgin's US case were "without merit" and that the case would not take place for at least two years.

Virgin said that the whole matter of the computer misuse case had been settled a year ago - and then only so Virgin's US court case could go ahead.

Mr Whitehorn said: "As BA well know, the action in the US does include as its background the dirty tricks affair and other activities BA has since taken in the market place. We shall carry on with our American case and we hope it will go ahead by the end of this year."

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