Sorrell's Libel Case Is a 'Bowl of Spaghetti'

Defense Attorney for Benatti and Tinelli Says Evidence Leads Nowhere

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- The story so far from courtroom 13 of London's High Court: Today Andrew Caldecott, the barrister defending Marco Benatti and Marco Tinelli against Martin Sorrell's libel action, opens the case for the defense. Previously in court, internet expert Peter Sommer backed Mr. Sorrell's claim that the two Italians waged an internet hate campaign against him. Mr. Sorrell has accused the two men of being behind defamatory blogs about him and distributing via e-mail a "grossly offensive" image of Mr. Sorrell and WPP Italy's chief operating officer, Daniela Weber. Mr. Sorrell fired Mr. Benatti as WPP's country manager for Italy last year; Mr. Tinelli runs Italian media company FullSix, started by Mr. Benatti and minority-owned by WPP.
Martin Sorrell
Photo: Newscom

Martin Sorrell outside High Court in London last week before the start of his libel trial. Today, the defense presented its case, saying there was 'no evidence whatsoever' that Mr. Benatti and Mr. Tinelli were responsible for either a scandalous e-mailed image or three libelous blogs posted last year. | ALSO: Comment on this article in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

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A bowl of spaghetti Milanese
Andrew Caldecott, a barrister (or litigation attorney) for Marco Benatti and Marco Tinelli, today described Martin Sorrell's case against the two Italian executives as a "bowl of spaghetti Milanese" that is "superficially tasty" but in fact a "jumble" and "leads nowhere, or to ends that are simply obscure."

Mr. Caldecott, cutting an imposing figure in the white wig and black robes of a barrister, delivered a vivid and entertaining opening argument for the defense today -- not an easy feat in a trial where the evidence revolves mainly around USB sticks and e-mail lists.

He subtly played to the press, drawing attention to which sections of his speech offered "entertainment value" and that he had structured his argument so that journalists didn't "have to keep going in and out." During the previous five days, journalists were repeatedly ejected from the court so that sensitive evidence could be heard in private.

The sensitive nature of the trial so far has revolved around Daniela Weber, chief operating officer of WPP Italy. Journalists were not permitted to hear her testimony, which was conducted earlier in the week via videoconferencing from Milan to a closed courtroom. This time the press prevailed, sort of. The Times won its fight to print a picture of the elusive Ms. Weber; the picture appears in today's issue of the London daily. Mr. Sorrell's legal team succeeded in getting an injunction against the picture being printed March 19, but it was lifted last night, and Times readers got a look at her today.

Identity revealed
The 44-year-old Ms. Weber has straight, shoulder-length, light-brown hair and wears little or no makeup and rectangular, brown glasses. In the unflattering picture, snapped on the street in Milan this week by The Times, she is wearing a light-blue scarf with a brown overcoat and is talking on her mobile phone.

The WPP boss charges the former WPP execs distributed a "vicious" photo via e-mail, along with scurrilous blogs portraying him as a mafioso-like figure tauntingly described as Don Martino. The communications purportedly referred to Mr. Sorrell and Ms. Weber as the "mad dwarf and nympho schizo." She and Mr. Sorrell are also suing Messrs. Benatti and Tinelli for breach of privacy.

Mr. Caldecott dismissed the argument of Mr. Sorrell's barrister, Desmond Browne, that the case is like a jigsaw with a piece missing, and offered instead his alternative, culinary image about spaghetti. He said most of the Mr. Sorrell's case "doesn't add up in the real world."

The defense barrister also accused Mr. Sorrell's team of implausibly portraying Mr. Tinelli as someone who "veered from Professor Moriarty to Inspector Clouseau in a matter of moments ... taking elaborate steps to cover his tracks while making elementary mistakes."

Mr. Caldecott said there was "no evidence whatsoever" that Mr. Benatti and Mr. Tinelli were responsible for either the e-mailed image or the three libelous blogs posted last year. As well as outlining the forensic evidence in the Italians' favor, he talked about the motives and personalities of the two men involved.

Young businessman of dynamism and vision
Mr. Tinelli has been called Mr. Benatti's poodle, but Mr. Caldecott painted a very different picture. He said Mr. Tinelli is a "young businessman of dynamism and vision, not a kamikaze pilot under the remote control of Mr. Benatti. He saw that FullSix should distance itself from the dispute [following Mr. Sorrell's dismissal of Mr. Benatti as country manager for WPP Italy] and foresaw the damaging consequences which would follow if FullSix started to mix it with WPP."

Mr. Caldecott smoothly reminded the court that even Mr. Sorrell describes Mr. Benatti as "an extremely engaging man who engenders great loyalty in his followers." There was a serious falling out between Mr. Benatti and Ms. Weber in the fall of 2005, but Mr. Caldecott argued that Mr. Benatti tired to heal the rift, apologizing for some harsh words. "And 'sorry,' as we all know, is the hardest word," Mr. Caldecott added.

Other arguments employed by Mr. Caldecott include the blogs themselves, which used "quite sophisticated, idiomatic English," meaning it was unlikely written by Italians. Mr. Benatti, in particular, claims little knowledge of English and has been working with an interpreter throughout the trial. Phrases used in the blogs include "What makes Don Martino tick?" and "Don Martino shapes the world from his BlackBerry." The blogs also refer to an affair between Mr. Benatti and Ms. Weber.
The defense barrister also accused Mr. Sorrell's team of implausibly portraying Mr. Tinelli as someone who 'veered from Professor Moriarty to Inspector Clouseau in a matter of moments.'
The defense barrister also accused Mr. Sorrell's team of implausibly portraying Mr. Tinelli as someone who 'veered from Professor Moriarty to Inspector Clouseau in a matter of moments.'

Messrs. Tinelli and Benatti, in Mr. Caldecott's narrative, are serious, committed businessmen who would never get involved with underhand tactics such as the blogs, and demonstrated that their company, FullSix (still 20% owned by WPP Group), was more important to them than personal vendettas.

Mr. Caldecott said the case "requires Mr. Benatti to be happy to draw attention to himself and injure his own reputation. It also requires the time to set up a blog in the course of a hectic business day in Milan."

He quotes an e-mail Mr. Tinelli sent Mr. Sorrell three weeks before the blogs went up, talking about "moving forward" and stating that his goal is for FullSix to emerge as an independent player that can compete in the market without having its energy drained by legal battles.

Mr. Caldecott said that e-mail shows how concerned Mr. Tinelli was to avoid the "horrendous costs of this litigation." He asked dramatically: "What could FullSix possibly gain by climbing into the ring with Martin Sorrell and WPP?"

Mr. Caldecott indicated there was some evidence of a shadowy "malign presence" within FullSix who may have been responsible. "[Mr. Benatti's] case is simply that he would never stoop as low as this JPEG," Mr. Caldecott said. He added that "publication of the blogs would have been an own goal of quite spectacular proportions."

After a lunch break, Mr. Caldecott continued in a private session (this time journalists were locked out) discussing the separate privacy case brought by Ms. Weber and Mr. Sorrell against the two Italians relating to the "vicious" image.
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