German tram firm backs down after language blunder

IT was one of the biggest rows of the embattled tram scheme so far and sent relations between bosses and their German contractor to new lows.

• The defamation action is just the latest dispute to hit the city's embattled tram project

But Bilfinger Berger's attempt to sue the project's former chairman was over almost as soon as it began yesterday - and it seems a simple translation error may have been to blame all along.

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David Mackay, who last week stood down as chairman of tram firm TIE, was quoted referring to the contractor as "delinquent".

Unfortunately, when "delinquent" was translated in to German, it was rendered as "criminals".

That appears to have led to the defamation action which was resolved with little fuss, but at the taxpayers' expense, in court yesterday.

Predictably, neither side was willing to give an inch afterwards with further claim and counter claim, leading to politicians to plea for an end to the "childish" behaviour and a return to work on the crisis hit scheme.

Councillor Steve Cardownie, the deputy council leader and long-time tram critic, said the two sides should just get on with building the line.

He said: "I'm more interested in the ramifications of the current dispute for the public purse rather than a feud between individuals. I think the public regards this as a bit of a sideshow. It's getting somewhat tiresome and childish, quite frankly. What most people want to know is where this project is headed."

Sources close to the project confirmed the court case had been ditched because of the confusion created by the way the German media had interpreted Mr Mackay's words.

Newspapers in Bilfinger Berger's homeland used the word "Verbrecher", which can mean both "delinquent" and "criminal".

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The German firm issued a statement insisting that it had dropped the threat of legal action after Mr Mackay "backed down" on his comments.

But that was immediately refuted by TIE, which said its contractor's actions had been "farcical", adding that its outgoing chairman stood by his comments.

Mandy Haeburn-Little, director of customer service and communications for TIE, said the contractor was attempting to "deliberately misrepresent" what had happened in court.

She said: "Here is a company who made a premeditated and very personal attack on David Mackay, relaying this attack widely to press and media and unbelievably also writing to many councillors through an open circular.

"When faced with our robust legal defence, they not only sought to back down, they actively tried to distance themselves from defending their challenge in open court. We are concerned about the gulf between the press statements and the facts as presented by Bilfinger Berger."

She added that Mr Mackay had not withdrawn "any element" of his earlier statement, adding that he had given no assurances about any future comments. TIE said it would now go after Bilfinger Berger to recover the legal fees it had incurred.

SNP Lothians MSP Shirley-Anne Somerville said the latest debacle proved that it was now time for the Scottish Parliament to get involved in the tram scheme.

She said: "How can anyone seriously expect TIE and Bilfinger to sort out this mess?"


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Statement issued by Bilfinger Berger at 11.59am headed 'Former Tram Chairman Backs Down on Statements Made': "On Friday, Bilfinger Berger Civil UK Ltd and Bilfinger Berger (SE) raised defamation

proceedings against Mr David Mackay, former chairman of Transport Initiatives Edinburgh Ltd (TIE), in respect of comments made by Mr Mackay in a national newspaper on Wednesday. Bilfinger Berger was concerned that Mr Mackay's statements implied criminal behaviour on their part.

"Mr David Mackay has today assured Bilfinger Berger that he had no intention of implying criminal behaviour by Bilfinger Berger. On the basis of this assurance, Bilfinger Berger has decided not to proceed with its court action against this individual."

Statement issued by TIE at 1.08pm. Mandy Haeburn-Little, director of customer service and communications: "This morning's activity and the subsequent statement issued by Bilfinger Berger is nothing less than farcical. It beggars belief. BB's press release is a deliberate misrepresentation of what actually happened in court and we reject it completely. David Mackay has not withdrawn any element of his statement and stands by every word that he said. At no time did David Mackay imply, make any allegations of, or introduce the subject of, criminality.

The issue of criminality was introduced by Bilfinger Berger, we do not understand why.

"It was clear from David Mackay's statement what he was intending through his remarks and the use of the word delinquent. David Mackay has given no assurances about future comment."

"The last few days have been a waste of time, a waste of public resources and a waste of effort and we will be pursuing BB to recover the costs we have incurred in defending this spurious action."