Wembley contractors face each other in High Court

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The Independent Football

The case brought by the two contractors involved in constructing Wembley Stadium opened in the High Court yesterday with accusations of foul play.

Lawyers for the Australian main contractor, Multiplex, claimed that the steel erection company Cleveland Bridge used illegitimate tactics - including PR "spinning" in the media - to put pressure on Multiplex.

Cleveland's printed defence statement contained a supposedly neutral "factual background" which was "about as neutral as the dodgy dossier relating to weapons of mass destruction," Roger Stewart QC, for Multiplex, said. He told Mr Justice Jackson that Multiplex were concerned "that Cleveland Bridge or those behind it are seeking to use these proceedings for ulterior purposes, forming part of a continuing strategy".

The judge, in the Technology and Construction Court in London, is being asked to rule on differences in which each side accuses the other of "repudiatory" breach of contract - a breach so fundamental the aggrieved party may treat the contract as terminated and sue for damages.

Multiplex, who blames its former sub-contractor at least in part for the delays which have bedevilled development of the new £757m 90,000-seat national stadium, is seeking up to £45m.

The Darlington-based Cleveland, which built the stadium's iconic steel arch but walked off the site in August 2004 citing breach of contract, is counter-claiming for £22.6m.

At the centre of the lawsuit is a 2004 agreement in which the two sides attempted to resolve a series of disputes concerning cost overruns by re-evaluating Cleveland's work.

In a statement issued before yesterday's hearing, Cleveland said it would seek to establish "that Multiplex, in revaluing Cleveland's work on July 16, 2004, by deducting circa £14m from their account and in failing to make payment of £1.25m in respect of monies previously agreed to be paid for the lifting of the arch, were in repudiatory breach of contract, entitling Cleveland to cease all further work in relation to the same from August 2 that year".

The court hearing is expected to last for up to four weeks.