UK

Apprentice Winner Stella English Suing Lord Sugar In Media Glare 'To Damage His Reputation'

12/03/2013 14:10 GMT | Updated 12/03/2013 15:54 GMT

Lord Sugar feels "wronged" that the former Apprentice winner is suing him for constructive dismissal and believes she is trying to damage his reputation using the media as "her weapon of choice", an employment tribunal heard.

Stella English, 34, from Whitstable, Kent, claims she was treated as an "overpaid lackey" after being handed a £100,000 contract for winning series six of the BBC1 show in 2010.

Lord Sugar, however, told the East London Tribunal Centre that Ms English is effectively blackmailing him.

Sugar's representative Seamus Sweeney said: "The claimant has, in the eyes of Lord Sugar, deliberately courted the media with a view of damaging his reputation."

stella english

Stella English claims she little more than an 'overpaid lackey'

He told how Ms English had "sold her story" to the press several times and accused her of being a "headline-grabber", deliberately sensationalising aspects of her evidence.

Mr Sweeney said English was using the media as a weapon in the same way Vicky Pryce did to "nail" Chris Huhne.

He told the tribunal Lord Sugar had "maintained his position, his dignity" until coming to court and added: "He can be forgiven in these circumstances for reacting passionately in his cross-examination because he feels wronged."

Lord Sugar, who gave evidence to the hearing last week, had admitted losing his cool when questioned about what he described as "derisory actions".

Mr Sweeney dismissed claims Ms English was intimidated or scared by the peer and said they had a good relationship.

"She sensationalises it and portrays him as always being angry in the meetings, and aggressive," said Mr Sweeney. "It's theatre."

He added: "She had been through 12 episodes of The Apprentice and knew what Lord Sugar was like."

Ms English was initially given a job in Lord Sugar's IT division Viglen.

The peer has rejected Ms English's claim that Viglen chief executive Bordan Tkachuk, when asked for his verdict of her a few months after she started working, replied: "Nice girl, don't do a lot."

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Lord Sugar said that Stella English resigned because she felt 'her time in the limelight was beginning to fade'

Mr Sweeney said: "It is difficult to see how it could have been said that she didn't do a lot when no one seemed to be of that view. The claimant was liked."

Ms English resigned from Viglen in May 2011 and said she then felt pressurised into taking up a new position at Lord Sugar's internet set-top box company You View.

However Lord Sugar said he was trying to help her out by offering her a new role as she had complained of being "desperate for money".

During a meeting in September 2011, Ms English said she was told by Lord Sugar that her contract was not being renewed, with the mogul adding he had met his obligations to her.

However, Lord Sugar told the hearing there was no full-time position available at You View and that it had been explained that contractual work might be possible instead.

Mr Sweeney denied Ms English's job was "a PR construct".

"It wasn't a sham," he said. "It was a real job, with real money...

"It might not have been her dream job - that does not mean it was a sham."

He added that she was doing "important work", noting she had given a breakfast TV interview before taking up her post after winning The Apprentice and said she was "excited" about it.

"How she can then complain it was not entrepreneurial is a mystery as she knew what she was going to be doing," added Mr Sweeney.

The hearing, attended by Lord Sugar and Ms English today, continues.

Philippa Jackson, representing Ms English, said Lord Sugar is "angry" at being sued, having publicly denounced "claim culture" during the tribunal.

"He's not going to be seen to be backing down," she said.

"He doesn't think much of employees running off and complaining - they should get on with it.

"What's more, he doesn't like it when people cross him. That became evident in the course of his evidence.

"He doesn't even attempt to countenance he might have committed a breach and done something wrong."

She said as Ms English was Lord Sugar's apprentice, she had the right to expect "a degree of mentoring" during her time working for him - something she alleges was lacking.

For there to be "a relationship of trust and confidence" between an employer and employee, both sides must consider the job to be "a genuine occupation", added Ms Jackson.

Addressing the fact that Ms English did not make any complaints about the way she claims to have been treated before resigning, Ms Jackson said: "She was clearly in a difficult situation. She was overpaid. She's come into an established company in very unusual circumstances.

"All that is relevant in understanding why she did not raise any issues."

The hearing has finished and the tribunal will make its decision within a month.

If there is to be a remedy hearing, depending on the verdict, it will take place on April 22.

Lord Sugar did not comment as he left the hearing in his Rolls- Royce, which has a personalised number plate.

Ms English, who now works for an IT firm, was told to "Have a nice day" by one photographer as she left with Ms Jackson and replied with a smile: "Thanks, I will now."