Judge Slams Courtroom Door as Sorrell Libel Case Heats Up

20 March 2007

LONDON: Britain's slavering tabloid pack was denied headline heaven on Monday as judge, Mr Justice Eady, declared court thirteen at London's High Court closed to public and press during evidence given by WPP Italia's chief operating officer Daniela Weber.

Weber, who gave evidence by video-link from Milan, was pictured with WPP Group ceo Sir Martin Sorrell (pictured) in a "grossly offensive" image circulated via email by the defendants in the case - former WPP executives Marco Benatti and Marco Tinelli.

Weber's evidence (and perhaps modesty) was protected from prying hacks by blue curtains drawn across the court's windows to prevent the video screen being viewed from outside.

Benatti, one-time 'country manager' of WPP's Italian operations, and his righthand man Tinelli, are defending charges of invasion of privacy and libelling Sorrell in a series of blogs that portrayed the ad supremo as a mafia don.

Back in the public domain, Danilo Tani, WPP Italia's chief financial officer, gave evidence on the fourth day of the ratings-topping free attraction. He told the court how senior management relations within WPPI declined in the year prior to Benatti's firing.

He said that Benatti and Weber - colleagues for over twenty years - started to have "heated conversations" in the autumn of 2005 as she opposed his calls for an increased projects budget.

Tani spoke of Benatti's frustration with the financial constraints imposed by Weber. "He told me that he could not continue like this because he felt that Ms Weber was thwarting him on everything.

"I told him my own view that she was simply not happy to support extravagant or inappropriate projects, not opposed to him personally. He said he was convinced that she needed to be moved.

"He also said he thought his business relationship with Sir Martin had been destroyed by Ms Weber, but he did not know why."

Under cross-examination, Tani refuted suggestions that Weber's personal relationship with Sir Martin had played a part in the problems at WPP. He (Tani) had known of the relationship since late 2004, after being informed privately by Weber.

He added: "It is also untrue to suggest, as the defendants do, that Ms Weber behaved differently or badly with WPP Italy employees as a result of her relationship with Sir Martin.

"I certainly did not find this to be the case. The fact that she was having a relationship with Sir Martin did not change the way in which she treated WPP Italy employees, including me."

The court learned that the Sorrell-Weber relationship is no longer in situ. Meantime, the hottest ticket in town continues its run.

Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff