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Contractors trade blows as Wembley High Court battle starts

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WEMBLEY STADIUM contractor Multiplex's High Court bat with steelwork subcontractor Cleveland Bridge kicked off on Tuesday, with claim and counterclaim over breach of contract.

Multiplex is suing Cleveland Bridge UK (CBUK) for £45M, while Cleveland is counter-suing Multiplex for £22.5M.

Multiplex is claiming CBUK fundamentally breached the £60M steelwork contract to erect the roof, arch and bowl steelwork in the stadium by walking away from the site on 2 August 2004.

The £45M claim covers the cost of programme delays and paying for the incomplete work to be transferred to another subcontractor, Hollandia.

'Purely by walking off site shows that CBUK wasn't interested in the binding contract, ' Multiplex barrister Roger Stewart QC told the Technology & Construction Court .

He added that CBUK had also threatened to leave as early as January 2004 unless its fixed price contract was renegotiated as a cost plus contract.

Stewart also drew on evidence which suggested that CBUK had no intention of working until contract completion and had plans to go into liquidation, under 'Project Trafalgar' (see box).

In its defence, Cleveland said it was counter-suing Multiplex for £22.5M - the amount it was owed up to 16 July, when it is alleged that Multiplex put its 'Armageddon Plan' into action.

This plan, it claims, was intended to drive CBUK into liquidation by avoiding payment for extra work (see box).

UK barrister Hugh Tomlinson QC said Multiplex had signed up to a very tight construction programme, and that the 'A Plan' was a way of 'extricating itself from a situation it had found itself in'.

The case is expected to continue for at least four weeks.

Ruby Kitching Project Trafalgar Multiplex alleges: CBUK had cash flow problems and that Project Trafalgar was CBUK's plan to go into liquidation. The plan also included a strategy to put Multiplex in the media spotlight to get it to pay up large sums of money to CBUK.

CBUK says: Project Trafalgar was a plan to deal with media, political and staff relations if CBUK had to wind down. CBUK claims the plan was never developed.

Armageddon Plan CBUK alleges: The plan was implemented by Multiplex to remove CBUK from site and avoid paying the steel contractor £32.7M for extra work it had carried out because of an arch redesign. Multiplex was on a fixed price lump sum contract with client Wembley National Stadium Limited (WNSL) and did not want to pay CBUK from its own pocket. The only way to get out of paying was to withhold payment, hoping that CBUK would go into liquidation.

Multiplex says: the plan was only a contingency plan and never implemented.

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