Battle for the McAlpine brand name turns nasty as Alfred is accused of having a 'poor payment record'
THE extraordinary High Court battle between Sir Robert McAlpine and its distant cousin Alfred McAlpine turned nasty on Wednesday when Alfred came under fire over its payment record.

The struggle – which is over whether the publicly owned Alfred can rebrand itself "McAlpine" – took a twist when Brendan Kerr, the managing director of demolition contractor Keltbray, said Alfred McAlpine had a reputation for wrangling over terms and raising difficulties over payment.

Kerr told the court: "It's commonplace in the industry to hear of Alfred McAlpine having a poor payment record."

The plaintiff also called architect and RIBA presidential hopeful Richard Saxon into the legal battle over its claims that Alfred's rebranding had caused confusion.

Saxon, director of BDP, gave evidence to the High Court on Tuesday. He said: "If you are not involved in the construction industry you would be confused."

The plaintiff firm Sir Robert McAlpine is suing the Alfred McAlpine group over a decision to rebrand itself. It is seeking an injunction to reverse the decision overseen by Alfred chief executive Ian Grice (pictured left) and has made a claim for damages.

The court was told on Tuesday that Sir Robert McAlpine only found out about the decision by Alfred to rebrand itself when a press release was issued by the company.

Sir Robert said that because it found out about the decision at such a late stage, it had been unable to attempt to prevent it.

The court was told that there had been no connection between the two groups since Alfred McAlpine split from his father Sir Robert's firm in 1934, which was later run by his two brothers.

The two firms then operated in different parts of the UK, though this ceased to be the case later when the difference between the two was signalled simply by the names.

We don’t have any formal agreements …

Malcolm McAlpine

Malcolm McAlpine (pictured, right), a grandson of Sir Robert, appeared as a witness for the plaintiff. He told the court that because both companies were controlled by members of the family, no legal papers had been drawn up. However, he claimed that an informal agreement between the two families had been made in the 1930s.

Malcolm McAlpine said: "We don't have any formal agreements. We felt agreement between family members would be valid."

The defendant, Alfred McAlpine, argued that the two companies were so well established that nobody in the construction industry would confuse them.

Malcolm McAlpine said that the two companies were differentiated by the fact that Sir Robert McAlpine was primarily a construction firm while Alfred McAlpine operated mainly in the services sector.

But he said Sir Robert McAlpine was concerned that its reputation could be tarnished by the generic use of the name McAlpine because firms in the services sector suffered more highs and lows.

Malcolm McAlpine said that Jarvis was a dramatic example of how a firm in the services sector had suffered a reverse in fortune. He said: "Two years ago it had a good reputation, and as a result of Potters Bar that reputation is ruined." If Alfred McAlpine was renamed McAlpine, and then suffered a comparable misfortune, not only would it suffer but the firm of Sir Robert McAlpine would also be affected, because people would think it was the same company.

He said that press coverage of the two companies since October, when the rebranding occurred, indicated there was confusion and that this was something both parties previously strove to avoid.