Scotland's 'golden couple' air dirty linen in court row

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The Independent Online

Media couples do not come much more powerful than the glamorous pairing of Kirsty Wark and Alan Clements. Wark, a star of Newsnight, and Clements, a wealthy television producer, have been hailed as Scotland's golden couple.

The glow, though, may be fading. At the High Court in London this week, the pair have been embroiled in a legal wrangle which has shone an unwelcome spotlight on the goings-on within their media empire.

Matters came to an embarrassing head when Mr Clements admitted that, as part of a dispute, he asked his former personal assistant Janice McKnight (now PA to Ms Wark) to access private emails sent between his former colleagues.

At the centre of their current battle is IWC, the television production company behind such hits as Location, Location, Location. It was jointly founded by the couple in 2004 by merging two other companies, Ideal World and Wark Clements. A year later, IWC was sold to the rival RDF Media Group for £14m in a deal believed to have earned the couple £4m.

As a condition of the sale, Mr Clements was tied by a "golden handcuffs" deal to continue working for IWC for three years. In March, however, he resigned by email, having been offered a job by Scottish Media Group, which owns two ITV franchises and the rights to the successful drama serials, Taggart and Rebus.

RDF, which made the recent controversial documentary about the Queen for the BBC, is seeking a court injunction to prevent Mr Clements from working for SMG until a three-year non-competition clause in his contract runs out in December 2008.

He, in turn, is claiming constructive dismissal by RDF, which would allow him to start work for his new employer next month.

Yesterday, Mr Clements's counsel Aidan Casey told the High Court that RDF had destroyed the implied trust and confidence in his client's employment contract by giving an "insulting and vitriolic" off-the-record briefing to the Glasgow-based Sunday Herald newspaper in April.

Mr Clements admitted that, when RDF denied being the source of comments in the Herald article, he asked his friend and former PA Ms McKnight to access emails between his former RDF colleagues which might prove the contrary.

The judge warned Mr Clements that procuring or aiding and abetting the procurement of private information was an offence, and that legal privilege entitled him to decline to answer certain questions. However, Mr Clements said he would like to be as helpful to the court as possible. It is not the first controversy to beset the couple in recent years. In 2005, when it emerged that Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell and his wife, Bridget, had holidayed with Wark and Clements at their four-bedroomed house in Portugal, the Scotland On Sunday newspaper called the affair "Villagate".

Mr McConnell was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing by the parliamentary standards commissioner at Holyrood.

Ms Wark, who was on the panel which picked the Catalan architect Enric Miralles to design the new Scottish Parliament, also came under fire when it emerged that her television company Wark Clements had received about £1m of public money to film the construction of the new building for a documentary, The Gathering Place.