Former winner of The Apprentice Stella English is attempting to “blackmail” millionaire businessman Lord Sugar, he claimed yesterday.
The peer is being sued for constructive dismissal by Ms English, 34, who won series six of the BBC1 show in 2010.
Giving evidence to the East London Tribunal Service, Lord Sugar said the action taken by his former apprentice was akin to a slap in the face.
Ms English was given a £100,000 role with Lord Sugar’s IT division Viglen as her prize but resigned in May 2011 and complained that her role there was that of an “overpaid lackey”, something her former boss strongly denied.
Ms English, of Whitstable, Kent, said she felt pressurised into taking up a new position at Lord Sugar’s internet set-top box company You View.
Lord Sugar said, however, he was trying to help her out as she had complained of being “desperate for money”.
He told the tribunal: I’m here because I have principles and I’m not just going to pay off people. When her instructing solicitor heard my name, it must have been ‘Ding, ding, ding – jackpot’.”
Lord Sugar appeared to become agitated at times, accusing Philippa Jackson, representing Ms English, of “scraping the barrel” with her questions.
The man described on The Apprentice as the nation’s “most belligerent boss” admitted the exchange had become heated.
He told Miss Jackson: “I have lost my cool a little bit more today than I normally do. I get very angry when people bring derisory actions against me, I’m afraid to say.
“I’m not going to succumb to tantamount to blackmail really... I’m here because I believe I have no case to answer and because... I believe this is a classic abuse of the tribunal system.”
Ms English had told the tribunal that during an unscheduled meeting on September 28 2011, Lord Sugar said he would not be renewing her contract and that he told her he did not “give a s***”.
But rather than his comment being aimed at Ms English, Lord Sugar said he was expressing his disregard at how the matter might play out in the media.
Lord Sugar admitted it “would not have been good” for either her credibility or that of the show if she had left before her contract ended. But he added: “My prime objective was to honour my commitments and to get her money.”
At no point during her employment did Ms English make any complaints, Lord Sugar told the hearing. The tribunal continues.