Sir Elton tries to reclaim £20m lost through lack of patience

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The Independent Online

The paparazzi waiting for Sir Elton John to make his appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, waited in vain. He didn't turn up to give evidence or even to listen to the opening arguments of his case against Andrew Haydon, who ran his management firm JREL, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountant which audited his own companies.

The paparazzi waiting for Sir Elton John to make his appearance at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday, waited in vain. He didn't turn up to give evidence or even to listen to the opening arguments of his case against Andrew Haydon, who ran his management firm JREL, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accountant which audited his own companies.

Not entirely surprising, since his QC, Gordon Pollock, pointed out early on that Sir John "has an aversion to what you might call men in suits". Mr Pollock's remark explained both the plaintiff's absence and the presence of everyone else in court 17, since it was Sir Elton's impatience with the minutiae of financial administration that had led him to lose track of some £20m, money he now wants back.

Though squally and tempestuous outside, in the London courtroom barely a ripple interrupted the placid elaborations of Mr Pollock, as he sketched out the grounds of Sir Elton's case. Mr Justice Ferris was taken through a beginner's guide to the complex pyramid of rake-offs and commissions generated by a pop career as successful as Elton John's.

In one year alone, he pointed out, John Reid, the singer's manager until a less than amicable split in 1998, had earned some £15m in commission. Mr Ferris listened patiently as Mr Pollock explained how a chain of local promoters, booking agents and tour producers were involved in the organisation of a major overseas tour, each of whom took their cut. "One wonders whether there is anything left over," said Mr Justice Ferris, startled that so many fleas could batten on the one dog, without the dog expiring.

The crux of the case is accountancy and contractual small print - in particular clause 7.2, a sub-section of a new contract between Mr Reid and Elton John, that granted the manager a larger cut of the pop star's earnings in return for taking on more of the costs incurred on foreign tours. Although Sir Elton has reached a $5m(£3.4m) settlement with John Reid he is now arguing that PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), who audited his own company's accounts, was negligent in not reporting that costs continued to be taken out of his own profits, as had been the case under a previous arrangement with Mr Reid.

"Your Lordship is now going to dive for the first time into the undoubted pleasures of Volume G," declared Mr Pollock, as he prepared to take the judge through a detailed account of PwC's 1989 audit. There was clear evidence, he argued, that at least one of the accountants, Glyn Barker, had recognised the anomaly during their preparation of company accounts but no explanation had been given as to whether the matter had been resolved, and money due to Sir Elton had continued to be paid to JREL.

Sir Elton's claim had originally included a figure to account for the extra interest payments on his overdraft, on the grounds that these were far higher than they would otherwise have been. But after lunch Mr Pollock told Mr Justice Ferris that this claim was being dropped. He understood, he said, that his opponents were preparing to call Sir Elton's fabled capacity for shopping into evidence - and had amassed a considerable body of evidence to demonstrate that the singer "always wanted to spend up to and beyond the limit of the money available to him" and this would provide a "tabloid and media frenzy".

Mr Justice Ferris seemed to understand the star's need for retail therapy. He asked mildly: "Money is to spend, isn't it? And the fact that you're disposed to spend rather than save does not disentitle you to what you are legally entitled to."

Sir Elton will have to wait for his final judgment, though, to find out whether another spree is in order.