Sorrell Trial Resumes, but No Testimony Was Heard

Lawyers Locked Behind Closed Doors All Day

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LONDON ( -- The story so far from Courtroom 13 of London's High Court: Last week witnesses for the defense discussed the relationship between WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell and WPP Italy Chief Operating Officer Daniela Weber. One witness said it was "generally known that they met publicly and holidayed together," as the defense attempted to demonstrate that hundreds of WPP employees were familiar with the information contained in blogs Mr. Sorrell believes to be defamatory. Mr. Sorrell has accused Marco Benatti, WPP's former country manager for Italy, and his lieutenant, Marco Tinelli, of being behind the blogs and distributing via e-mail a "grossly offensive" image of Mr. Sorrell and Ms. 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 March 15 before the start of his libel trial. Court resumed today, but without hearing testimony as lawyers remained behind closed doors all day. | ALSO: Comment on this article in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

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Nothing from the witness stand
The trial involving WPP Group Chief Executive Martin Sorrell at the High Court here may end without hearing testimony from the two men -- Marco Benatti and Marco Tinelli -- he accuses of libel and invasion of privacy.

No evidence was heard in court today, the ninth day of the trial, as lawyers from each side were locked in private discussions until it was time to go home at 5 p.m.

Mr. Sorrell's attorney, Desmond Browne, thanked the judge for the time he had given them but revealed it had "not yet borne fruit." He concluded: "I think all I really need to say is we hope to have news for your lordship first thing in the morning."

Aficionados of the Sorrell-Benatti legal imbroglio don't need to worry -- there are more cases to come.

A High Court judge will decide tomorrow morning whether a separate legal action between Mr. Sorrell and Mr. Benatti will be heard in Italy or England. Mr. Benatti is suing Mr. Sorrell for wrongful dismissal and Mr. Sorrell is suing Mr. Benatti for breach of contract. Mr. Benatti lost an action last year that would have moved that suit to Italy, and his appeal will be heard on tomorrow.

Training for his moment
Back in Courtroom 13, Mr. Tinelli, one of the defendants and chief executive of Italian media company FullSix, had been due to give evidence in court today. "I've been training for this for the last two days and reading all that stuff," he joked as he indicated the piles of documents in court, "and for nothing."

It looks like the two sides are trying to reach an agreement and the case may well end tomorrow if they are successful. Insiders have indicated that the appearance of a new batch of technical evidence has been the cause of this new phase of the trial, which began yesterday, when court was adjourned, while the two sides discussed forensic material.

Mr. Sorrell is suing not only the two individuals but also FullSix Italy and FullSix France. WPP Group owns a 20% stake in FullSix, a company founded by Mr. Benatti, whom Mr. Sorrell dismissed as WPP's country manager for Italy last year. Daniela Weber, chief operating officer of WPP Italy, is jointly suing with Mr. Sorrell in the privacy case.

What price libel?
In another twist to the case, WPP's board of directors is expected to discuss how much of the cost of the trial WPP will contribute and how much will come from Mr. Sorrell's own fortune.

Although the legal action was taken in Mr. Sorrell's name, the events stemmed from Mr. Sorrell's dismissal of Mr. Benatti, and an e-mail containing a "grossly offensive" image of Mr. Sorrell and Ms. Weber that was sent from the address "WPP Careers," using subject lines such as "Four steps to boost your career with WPP."
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