Chris Evans is to go to the High Court today to sue SMG, claiming millions in damages over allegations that the company drove him to drink and to absent himself from work.
Mr Evans, once the star DJ at Virgin Radio, is alleging that he was under such stress at work that he was forced to call in sick and take to drink. SMG is counter-suing, alleging that he failed to fulfil his contract by not turning up for work.
Three years ago, at the height of the boom, SMG paid £225m in cash and shares for Mr Evans' Ginger Media Group, which included Virgin Radio and a television business. Mr Evans, 38, is thought to have already made more than £70m from the deal, which included three tranches of 5 million SMG shares.
After SMG dismissed Mr Evans in 2001, it did not pay him the final tranche of 5 million shares – then worth some £9m but today these have a value of £3m. He is suing for the shares, or the cash equivalent, plus damages of £2.5m for the wrongful termination of his contract.
Mr Evans is expected to take the stand today and his side will call a further dozen witnesses. The case, which is expected to hear some colourful testimony, is slated to last four weeks. SMG management will begin to give evidence in about two weeks time, with the chief executive Andrew Flanagan and the finance director George Watt due in court.
Relations between SMG and Mr Evans broke down after Virgin Radio bosses vetoed his plans to stay on air all day, on an occasion when there was an England football international match being played that day. He then went absent for a week, claiming he was unwell with stress. There were newspaper pictures of Mr Evans, with his pop star wife, Billie Piper, buying alcohol, during this week when he was off ill. The High Court will hear claims from Mr Evans that it was stress which made him take to drink.
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