Alfred McAlpine faces £2m loss if Sir Robert wins High Court injunction to stop rebranding under family name
Building can reveal that the High Court civil war over the McAlpine name may hinge on a 70-year-old deal between two branches of the family.

The legal battle, which is due to be heard at the High Court in March, could have costly consequences for Alfred McAlpine. The firm stands to lose £2m if Sir Robert McAlpine wins an injunction to prevent it from rebranding as just McAlpine.

The issue at the heart of the case is likely to be an agreement between the two companies from the early 1930s, which stated Alfred should operate in the north of England and Sir Robert in the south. This was drafted when Sir Robert, the founder of the McAlpine dynasty, allowed his son Alfred to set up an independent building firm.

Alfred McAlpine is arguing that the agreement never covered the naming rights of the two firms and that it was only a 20-year deal that expired in the 1950s.

The Sir Robert McAlpine family is furious at the Alfred McAlpine rebranding and is arguing fiercely that an agreement still exists.

One family member told Building: "They [Alfred McAlpine] are just trying to cash in on the McAlpine reputation and brand; I don't know why they can't just establish a brand based on their own quality."

He added that before the rebranding there had been a strong distinction between the companies that has now been breached.

He said: "What is worse is that there are not even any family members left at Alfred McAlpine."

Sir Robert McAlpine said the rebranding was confusing. A spokesperson said: "There was a verbal agreement between the two companies before the war."

Alfred McAlpine argues that the majority of construction clients and the industry already know who it is and that the general public is confused over the ownership of the two firms anyway.

A spokesperson for Alfred McAlpine said the company intended to defend the legal action robustly and that it felt it was in a strong position.

Alfred McAlpine, which is now a plc and does not have any McAlpine family members within the firm, is making contingency plans in the event that it loses the court battle.

An insider said that the Alfred McAlpine board was confident that it would successfully defend the legal action, but was still looking at a number of options in case of defeat.

The insider said: "It has cost the company about £400,000 to rebrand and if we had to change back it would cost us about the same again, as we would have to change the branding of every building and vehicle in the country."

He added that with the costs of rebranding and the legal fees, the total cost to the company would be in excess of £2m.

The court battle is likely to centre on the law of "passing off", whereby Sir Robert will argue that Alfred is representing its services in a way that could confuse members of the public into thinking it is Sir Robert. This argument will be contested by Alfred McAlpine.

The McAlpine family saga

  • Sir Robert McAlpine, who died in 1934, established Sir Robert McAlpine as a general building company in 1870.

  • Sir Robert’s son Alfred McAlpine set up his business with the permission of his father in the 1930s, with an agreement that it would operate in northern England.

  • Alfred McAlpine, now a plc, was last under family control eight years ago when Euan McAlpine departed.