THE MAN in charge of Cleveland Bridge at the time it struck the deal to carry out steel work at Wembley stadium admitted he did not expect the firm to finish the contract.
In an email sent in January 2004, Australian Alan Nightingale, CBUK's managing director, told his recently appointed superior, Roddy Grant: 'It is probably difficult to see how Cleveland Bridge will be there at the end. Our biggest risk is to protect an orderly exit if it gets taken to the extreme.' The message was sent at a time of deteriorating relations over money between CBUK and main contractor Multiplex.
CBUK began work on the contract in September 2002 but left the job in August 2004 with half the stadium's bowl, the roof and the roof truss still to be erected.
Multiplex and CBUK are suing each other for damages and breach of contract. Around £50 million is at stake.
At the High Court in London last week, Multiplex's QC, Roger Stewart, said Mr Nightingale's comments showed the firm was preparing to leave the job because it was in financial trouble.
But current CBUK managing director Brian Rogan, who received a copy of the email, denied this and said: 'His view of Multiplex, being Australian, was that they were very aggressive and would try to do us down.' Mr Stewart accused Mr Rogan of trying to provoke Multiplex when in late January he sent a letter to project director Ashley Muldoon suggesting the stadium's iconic arch might not be lifted until November 2004.
He repeated his client's claim that CBUK tried to pressure Multiplex into switching the firm away from its £60 million fixed price deal onto a more lucrative cost-plus contract and rubbished Mr Rogan's claims that he had offered Multiplex a deal in the middle of June to finish the remaining steel work for £29 million.
Mr Stewart told Mr Rogan: 'You thought you had Multiplex over a barrel, didn't you? You weren't prepared to take any serious risk.' Earlier Mr Rogan admitted the firm was weeks away from going bust.
Mr Rogan, who was operations director and then deputy managing director at the time of the firm's bust-up with Multiplex, was asked by Mr Stewart about a meeting he had with Multiplex project director Ashley Muldoon in the m iddle of December 2003.
He admitted he had told Mr Muldoon that CBUK 'may' go insolvent the following month if it didn't get financial backing from CBUK parent company, the Saudi-based Al Rushaid Investment Group controlled by Sheikh Abdullah.
Mr Rogan added: 'If things weren't resolved in January and if Sheikh Abdullah decided not to support the business, then we would be insolvent.' Mr Stewart suggested CBUK had taken on the £60 million fixed-price steel contract to help the firm's cashflow, which he said was evidenced by the fact that CBUK 'front-loaded' its payments from Multiplex.
He added that CBUK was trying to 'use the insolvency card' to force Multiplex to switch CBUK onto a more lucrative cost-plus contract.
But Mr Rogan said costs had soared because of 'substantial changes to every aspect of the contract'.
He added that he expected the firm to break even on the job as a result of money clawed back from claims which, he said, were the result of 800 changes to the steel design.
CBUK eventually left the job five weeks after erecting the stadium's signature arch.
The case continues.