Ex-Canary chief's dramatic court fight

AN ex-Norwich City chairman faces a multi-million-pound legal claim after being accused of ripping off a former business partner.Bob Cooper who is a close friend of Delia Smith and quit the club six years ago, is one of three men fighting the allegations in London's High Court.

AN ex-Norwich City chairman faces a multi-million-pound legal claim after being accused of ripping off a former business partner.

Bob Cooper who is a close friend of Delia Smith and quit the club six years ago, is one of three men fighting the allegations in London's High Court. Along with his son David Cooper and Ahmed Zghari he is said to have dishonestly obtained the rights to an invention and formed a company which could now be worth almost £60m.

They deny any wrongdoing, but if the court finds in the favour of claimant Paul Burtenshaw - himself the son of famous top-flight football referee Norman Burtenshaw - they could be forced to pay him a share of any future fortune amassed from their dealings.

Mr Cooper, a former director of Sainsbury's, became a familiar face to Canaries fans during his four-year spell in charge. But he dramatically left his role in 2002 - around the time he is alleged to have “frozen out” Mr Burtenshaw - to pursue “other business interests”.

A preliminary hearing yesterday marked the beginning of what is expected to be a drawn out legal battle. It centres on an idea to give mobile phone customers rewards when shopping which was originally developed by Dialtime, a company run by all four men.

Barrister Hugh Tomlinson said there was a falling out which led to Mr Burtenshaw being “effectively excluded from the running of the company”. It is then that Mr Cooper and his co-defendants are said to have transferred the assets of Dialtime - including intellectual property - to a new company called Mcashback for £35,000 behind Mr Burtenshaw's back.

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He added that near the time of the transfer the men had turned down a £1m offer for a 25pc stake in the company, suggesting they knew it could in fact be worth more than £4m.

“These defendants got together over a period of months and decided the assets of this company would be transferred to their own company,” Mr Tomlinson said.

“It is no secret that Mr Burtenshaw became inactive after a falling out, but none of that entitles these defendants to transfer the assets to another company. In doing so they were preferring their own interests to that of the company.”

Since 2002 the company has grown and recently Standard Chartered Bank invested £18.3m in the technology. This could mean, Mr Tomlinson said, the firm is worth about £57.8m.

Bob Cooper was initially the sole shareholder in Mcashback but has since transferred stock to David Cooper and Mr Zghari.

The men claim that they have never profited from the original concept and it is subsequent ideas which have led to the firm's success.

However, Mr Tomlinson said the new developments stemmed directly from the first idea. He added: “If they had behaved lawfully it would be Dialtime that would have acquired millions of pounds.”

Mr Cooper's 2002 departure came as a shock to supporters as the team pushed for Premiership football. Mr Cooper had a reputation as a hands-on chairman, taking responsibility for player contracts and transfers - now the responsibility of chief executive Neil Doncaster.

In his parting statement he said: “My love for football and my friendship with Delia and Michael brought me to Norwich. They wanted me to help them bring the club out of a difficult period of decline and re-establish itself as a successful club again.”

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