Ireland gripped by Van's brown-eyed girl in court

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In one of the most sensational squabbles to reach the Irish courts in years, former beauty queen Michelle Rocca yesterday denied attacking a blonde she found in bed with her then boyfriend.

Ms Rocca, 38, now the fiancee of Ireland's most distinguished popular musician, Van Morrison, told the Dublin hearing it was "totally untrue" that she dragged the woman from the bed by her hair and beat her with her hands and feet. Ms Rocca was giving evidence under cross-examination on the second day of her High Court action for damages against Cathal Ryan, the son of a prominent businessman, for an alleged assault five years ago.

She claims Mr Ryan, whose father, Tony Ryan, is the founder of Ireland's Ryanair airline and the GPA aircraft leasing company, punched and beat her after she found him in bed with the blonde woman during a party.

Ms Rocca claimed Mr Ryan - who denies the allegations - had been under the influence of drink at the time of the alleged attack. Questioned by defence counsel, she admitted attending a Dublin clinic over a four-day period last year "for depression and stress, after four years of hell" - but denied she had been treated "for a drink problem".

Ms Rocca, who hosted Ireland's presentation of the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest, married former Arsenal footballer John Devine at 21 and has two daughters from that relationship. Mr Ryan, a former pilot, was also once married, and their unresolved liaisons undermined early marriage plans, though he and Ms Rocca lived together intermittently from 1989 after meeting at Dr Ryan's Tipperary home the previous year.

Mr Ryan ended the relationship with Ms Rocca in late 1991, shortly before the alleged attack. She maintains that just days before the incident the pair discussed plans to marry.

The court heard that at a party, Ms Rocca went looking for Mr Ryan and found him in bed with another woman, Sarah Lindon. She claims that Mr Ryan then attacked her, breaking her nose, dragging her by her hair and punching her repeatedly in the face and chest before kicking her about her body.

Mr Ryan's counsel said the defence would argue that Ms Rocca attacked Ms Lindon, who had taken to bed after feeling unwell. Alan Murdoch