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Row cost rival bosses their friendship

THE disintegrating relationship between the chairman of Multiplex and his opposite number at Cleveland Bridge was placed centre stage at the High Court battle between the two firms this week.

The court heard that Mulitplex's founder John Roberts and Sheikh Abdullah, who controls Cleveland Bridge's Saudi-based parent Al Rushaid Investment Corporation, had once been friends. But the Cleveland Bridge group chief executive hired by the Sheikh in December 2003 said the friendship turned sour as the two firms squabbled over who was responsible for the problems which engulfed the steel package on Wembley stadium.

Roddy Grant told Multiplex's QC Roger Stewart that he had been made aware that the Sheikh had a 'personal relationship' with Mr Roberts which led the Sheikh to believe the disagreements could be sorted.

But he said that by early 2004 this had become increasingly strained and added: 'They had a horrific screaming match on the phone in early February.' Mr Grant said that at this time he had identified a £20 million funding gap between what CBUK had spent on the project and the amount it had been paid by Multiplex. He said: 'The Sheikh's position was that he was not willing to bankroll Multiplex.' But Mr Stewart said the Sheikh backed a plan to delay the lifting of the stadium's signature arch to put commercial pressure on Multiplex.

Mr Stewart said that by April 2004 the arch had still not been lifted because CBUK was using it as a bargaining tool to get more money from Multiplex. He asked Mr Grant: 'The Sheikh was taking the position that should be your bargaining card?' Mr Grant replied: 'I refused to let people talk in those terms.' Around £50 million are at stake in the Multiplex and CBUK case.

The case continues.