Top lawyers to fight over Selina Scott age claims

Exclusive Former breakfast TV star Selina Scott has raised the stakes in her legal battle with Channel Five over alleged ageism by hiring one of the world's foremost "lawyers to the stars".

Scott, 57, claims she was cheated out of a lucrative presenting contract with Five after bosses backpedalled on the deal because they wanted someone younger to fill in for Natasha Kaplinsky, 35, during maternity leave.

The case is expected to get under way in November when Scott will be represented by defamation expert Simon Smith, the hard nosed frontman of Schillings, one of Hollywood's favourite celebrity libel firms.

Mr Smith, whose hobbies include flying helicopters, has made a name for himself defending the privacy and good names of A-list celebrities but is also an expert on contracts.

He helped resurrect the idea of the "John Doe injunction" in English law when his client JK Rowling discovered copies of an unpublished Harry Potter novel had been stolen. He used it as a weapon to stop extracts being leaked to newspapers by the unknown person.

He has been involved in a string of High Court libel victories against tabloids on behalf of Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Teri Hatcher, Keira Knightley, Britney Spears, Danielle Lloyd, Justin Timberlake, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, David Hasselhoff and others.

He also successfully represented the son of UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan against the Sunday Times, sparking UN and US Senate investigations.

Other clients include business and "superwoman" Nicola Horlick, Chris Evans, Noel Edmonds, Manchester United and England footballer Rio Ferdinand, Eastenders' actress Jessie Wallace; Edward Fox, Hugh Grant and girlfriend Jemima Khan, and Tory MPs.

Business clients include the London Stock Exchange, Bernie Ecclestone/Formula One, GlaxoSmithKline and the Royal Mail and Post Office.

But Mr Smith will be up against the best during the four-day hearing at the Central London office of the tribunals service in Holborn. Five – who say the claim will be vigorously defended – will be represented by corporate whizzkid Andrew Lilley, head of employment and a partner in Travers Smith, one of the UK's leading corporate, financial and commercial law firms.

His clients include the Bank of England, Pinewood Shepperton Studios, Raytheon Systems, Royal Bank of Scotland and Virgin Active. He has been nominated by legal experts to appear in the Guide to the World's Leading Labour and Employment Lawyers. .

Scott, who now farms in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in North Yorkshire, has been championing mature presenters, telling the Yorkshire Post a woman her age could not get on TV "unless she's humiliated in Wife Swap or prepared to lie in a box with rats in the jungle".

Five has since chosen to use existing staffers Isla Traquair, 28, and Matt Barbet, 32, to fill in for Kaplinsky for the prime-time 5pm and 7pm weekday bulletins but Scott said she was first in line until Five had a change of heart just days before she was due to sign a 200,000 contract.

Scott's claim of age discrimination, against both Five and programme director Bob Gale, looks likely to result in a three to four day public hearing.

She found another ally yesterday in the leading think tank on age equality The Employers Forum on Age which said: "If Selina was missed off the shortlist because of ageist attitudes in Channel 5, the EFA is supportive of her move to challenge and highlight this unacceptable form of age discrimination."