Ryanair court action against COO Peter Bellew, a summary

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  • Day by day summary of court case
  • Ryan seeking order requiring Peter Bellew
  • to prevent his departure to a similar role in easyJet
  • Ryanair’s claims are denied by Mr Bellew,

Ryanair, represented by Martin Hayden,  seeks an injunction preventing Mr Bellew of Glenconnor House Killarney, Co Kerry from acting contrary to the post-termination restrictions allegedly contained his contract of employment. Ryanair’s claims are denied by Mr Bellew, represented by John Rogers SC and Tom Mallon BL,

On Monday December 23, the High Court rejected Ryanair’s attempt to prevent Chief Operating Officer Peter Bellew from joining rival EasyJet until 2021, saying a 12-month non-compete clause was unenforceable. 

Ryanair said it had instructed its lawyers to immediately appeal.

The judge said the covenant at the heart of the case would prevent Mr Bellew from taking up employment with any European airline and Ryanair had not shown how its interests should extend beyond those airlines in direct competition with it in the low cost or low fare sector to those operating in the flag or high cost sector.

Mr Justice Senan Allen said the legitimate interest of Ryanair in restraining Mr Bellew from taking up alternative employment was limited to roles which would risk the disclosure or use of its protectable information.

“I find that the restraint on employment in any capacity goes beyond that interest and has not been shown to be justifiable,” he said. “I find that the covenant to which the defendant [Mr Bellew] for valuable consideration freely agreed is, as a matter of law, void and unenforceable as an unjustified restraint of trade.”

In dismissing Ryanair’s legal demands that Mr Bellew be restrained by the covenant he signed, Judge Allen found that Mr Bellew was not unfairly or unreasonably treated by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary in being excluded from participating in the 2019 round of share options

TUESDAY DECEMBER 3

Ryanair claimed that its chief operations officer Peter Bellew “knew from the get-go” there was a clause in his contract of employment preventing him from joining a rival for a period of 12 months post his departure from the Irish airline. CEO Michael O’Leary in his evidence to the court said that a non-compete clause was standard in Ryanair’s senior managers’ contracts of employment, who the court heard are known as “Zs”.

Mr O’Leary, in reply to his counsel Martin Hayden, said Zs must give six months’ notice and cannot work for a rival airline for 12 months post-termination as part of their contract of employment. The Zs he said are also paid a basic salary and a bonus and also receive share options which are paid out once the senior employee stays with the company for a specific period of time. The share option scheme, Mr O’Leary said, is designed to promote company loyalty among the Zs and other senior personnel.

Mr O’Leary also told the court that as a “Z” Mr Bellew would not only have access to important commercially sensitive information concerning Ryanair that would benefit a rival, about the part of the airline that the defendant was responsible for, but all other areas as well. While all airlines could be regarded as rivals to Ryanair, Mr O’Leary said that EasyJet would be considered the airline’s main competitor in the low-fares sector.

In his defence, Mr Bellew denies any breach of contract and says the purported clause is unenforceable. He says that the non-compete clause was included on the basis he would be included in a share option scheme offered to him by Ryanair in 2018. He claims that he was not included in that scheme which renders the non-compete clause null and void. He also says that he will adhere to, and honour, his obligations of confidentiality towards Ryanair after he departs the airline. Opening the case Mr Hayden said Mr Bellew knew from the “get-go” that a non-compete clause was “part and parcel” in his contract of employment.

In his evidence, Mr O’Leary said Mr Bellew rejoined Ryanair in following a chance meeting with him in October 2017. Mr O’Leary said the airline was experiencing “a rocky” period in 2017 with issues over pilot rostering and pilot recruitment.  Mr Bellew had previously worked in the area of pilot recruitment, and was “well-liked” by them, Mr O’Leary added. Following discussions with Mr Bellew, he took up the role as the COO with Ryanair. His role was to take charge of all flight operations, and he was also responsible for flight operations, engineering, and pilot training and recruitment.  He was paid €550,000 per year plus a bonus of up to €500,000. He was also offered share options in Ryanair. After leaving Ryanair to take up a senior post with Malaysia Airlines in 2015 he had missed out on a payment under a share option scheme, Mr O’Leary said. As part of the agreement reached paving the way for him to return to Ryanair a payment of €1.1m was made to Mr Bellew under the share agreement scheme that had been in place between 2014 and 2019.

Mr O’Leary said that the issue of a non-compete clause was never raised with him by Mr Bellew. As part of his role, Mr Bellew would have attended regular meetings with the other “Zs” where important and sensitive information about Ryanair would have been discussed. Mr Bellew was “privy” to sensitive information about his own field within the airline but also information about other areas within Ryanair, as the “Zs” all exchanged their weekly reports with each other. This information included the price Ryanair pays for its aircraft tyres and ground services at the airports it operates out of, he said.

Mr O’Leary said that in November 2018 he sent a memo to Mr Bellew about his performance as COO. He said that things that should have been done by Mr Bellew were not being done, and decisions were not being made by his COO for several weeks. In reply to questions from Mr Hayden, Mr O’Leary said some of the things he was unhappy with included the COO’s handling of when Ryanair changed its policy regarding baggage and when Mr Bellew went to Brussels to speak at a function. Information contained in reports from the COO to the CEO was also incorrect Mr O’Leary added. Mr O’Leary, who told the court he does not use email said that he was further dissatisfied with a response he received from Mr Bellew regarding his memo.

WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 4

It emerged in Court that the IAA threatened to ground 162 Ryanair aircraft after hearing that Airworthiness Review Certificates had not been updated in Feb 2018. Michael O’Leary, confirmed that the airline subsequently produced the documents, known as Airworthiness Review Certificates, within a deadline set by the authority. He agreed with Mr Bellew’s senior counsel, John Rogers, that the chief operating officer handled a potentially serious issue for Ryanair “very well”. Mr O’Leary told the court that he had given Mr Bellew credit for this at the chief operating officer’s review in March 2018.

Mr Rogers was challenging Mr O’Leary’s claims that there were problems with Mr Bellew’s performance. Following that review, Ryanair granted Mr Bellew 100,000 share options, priced at €14.40, part of an overall scheme to retain the company’s senior managers. The airline argues that when he accepted this, Mr Bellew signed an agreement barring him from joining rival carriers for 12 months after leaving the company. Mr O’Leary said he brought Mr Bellew back to Ryanair in 2017 from Malaysia Air, where he was chief executive, to quell unrest amongst pilots that followed a rostering mix-up that forced the cancellation of thousands of flights.  “I specifically wanted to get him back because he was well known amongst pilots, I tried to get him to try to head off unionisation,” Mr O’Leary said. Ryanair agreed to recognise trade unions to avoid strikes in Christmas week 2017. Mr Bellew opposed this decision at a management meeting. To entice Mr Bellew back, Mr O’Leary offered him €550,000 a-year, a bonus of up to €500,000 and a €1.13m payment to compensate him for losing out on share options when he first left the airline in 2015.

He agreed he had stopped Mr Bellew from dealing directly with unions following a meeting with a German union because Mr Bellew had “basically given them everything that they wanted”. Mr O’Leary denied describing Mr Bellew as being “too nice for Ryanair” and that the COO “was a lover and not a fighter”. He told Mr Bellew in November 2018 and again in March this year that he was unhappy with the chief operating officer’s performance in key areas. As a result, Mr O’Leary told him in March that he would not qualify for the airline’s 2019 share option scheme, but that if he improved his performance over coming months, this would be reviewed.

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Mr Bellew informed Mr O’Leary in early July that he was leaving Ryanair. Mr O’Leary said Mr Bellew informed him last July he was resigning from his role as COO, citing lack of sleep and stress, and “would probably go travelling”. The executive subsequently confirmed on 17 July that he was joining EasyJet in January 2020. O’Leary said that this was not possible for Bellew to go to EasyJet given the 12-month non-compete clause. He said if he was joining an airline that wasn’t operating in the low fare sector or outside of Europe that Ryanair probably won’t be seeking to enforce the clause. He said tried to be reasonable and offered Bellew the option of ending his employment with Ryanair after three months notice, which meant he could join EasyJet sometime in September 2020 after the commercially sensitive Ryanair summer schedules had been completed.  That offer he said was not accepted, and Bellew had informed him that the non-compete clause did not apply and that he was entitled to join EasyJet after completing his notice.

O’Leary said he criticised Bellew’s overall performance as COO’s in his annual review in March 2019 but denied trying to force Bellew out of Ryanair. He said if he had “wanted to get rid of Mr Bellew”, who he brought back to Ryanair in late 2017, “he would have been gone.” In addition to a good salary and bonus, Bellew was paid €1.1m arising out of a share option scheme in June 2019, some three months after the critical review was conducted. Had he (O’Leary ) wanted him out of Ryanair that money would not have been paid. He said Bellew, who worked for the airline between 2006 and 2015, was rehired to deal with certain operational difficulties and with a view to deal with pilot issues.

’Leary accepted that arising out of issues identified in Bellew’s March 2019 review that his COO was told that he would not be included in a 2019 share option scheme. O’Leary said that it was made clear that this situation would be reviewed. In reply to Rogers, O’Leary said that he had the power as group CEO to make a decision stopping an employee from receiving share options even if Ryanair’s remuneration committee had given its approval.

Also under cross-examination, O’Leary denied Roger’s suggestion that in contract to Bellow the CEO ran and made decisions in regards to the running of the airline on an ad-hoc basis. He also denied “kicking up a ruckus” or ever shouting and being abusive at a meeting in November 2018 after seeing that arrangements regarding new Ryanair passenger baggage conditions were not in place at Faro and Dublin airport. O’Leary also rejected counsel’s suggestion that the careful manner in which Bellew went about his job was not to the CEO’s liking. However, under cross-examination by John Rogers SC for Bellew, O’Leary accepted that he had praised Bellew in the COO’s annual review, which was compiled in March 2018.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 5

Mr Bellew argues that the agreement is null and void and has pledged to maintain his confidentiality obligations to Ryanair after joining EasyJet. Mr O’Leary’s decision to withhold the 2019 offer prompted board and remuneration committee member Julie O’Neill to ask the chief executive if that meant Mr Bellew was no longer bound by the non-compete clause. The 2019 scheme was meant to replace the options given to managers last year, as Ryanair’s shares have been trading below the 2018 option price of €14.40 a share. The airline told staff in February that they would have to surrender the options granted in 2018 if they wanted to benefit from the scheme commenced this year.

Responding to questions from Mr Bellew’s senior counsel, Mr O’Leary said that staff did not actually surrender their 2018 options in February. He added that some managers chose not to take the 2019 offer and to keep their 2018 share options. Ryanair maintains that the 2018 share option scheme still applies, and thus Mr Bellew’s non-compete clause still applies to him. The share options were conditional on Ryanair hitting certain after-tax profits. However, Mr Justice Senan Allen restricted the media from reporting the target for the airline’s current financial year, which ends March 31st, 2020, as both Mr O’Leary and Ryanair’s senior counsel, Martin Hayden, argued that this would cause the airline to breach stock exchange rules.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has rejected claims that there was “a culture of fear” among the airline’s pilots out on sick leave from work. The issue of pilot attendances was an area of responsibility of Chief Operations Officer Peter Bellew.  Under cross-examination on the third day of the action by John Rogers SC for Mr Bellew, Mr O’Leary said that there were issues about a small number of pilots calling in sick either the day before or the day after they were scheduled to take a few days to leave.  Mr O’Leary said he informed Mr Bellew that he was not happy with his performance in this and a number of other areas for which the COO was responsible, and said he set up meetings with him in order to address the problem.

Mr O’Leary said Ryanair did not have these pilots “all shot at dawn or hung drawn and quartered”. He said the airline addressed this like “a good employer would do” and spoke to the pilots in question about “improving their attendances.”  He said did not have any problem with any pilots who were genuinely sick. He said a suggestion by Mr Rogers that he had created “a culture of fear” among the airline’s pilots, particularly after the airline had recognised unions in several countries was “absolutely untrue.” He denied a contention by Mr Rogers that this was an example of him trying to “micro-manage” the airline and denied that he thought Mr Bellew was “not tough enough” to deal with the pilots.

Mr O’Leary further denied under cross-examination that last July he went “nose-to-nose” in a confrontation that almost resulted in violence with a now-former Ryanair employee after the airline group’s CEO is allegedly described the individual as being “fucking useless.”  Mr O’Leary denied he had almost come to “fisty cuffs” with the employee. He accepted that he may have used some bad language to describe that person. That individual, Mr O’Leary added, had left Ryanair on good terms. During the cross-examination, the airline group CEO also denied a suggestion by Mr Rogers of being verbally abusive to Mr Bellew in meetings. He further rejected a claim that as CEO he was somebody who wanted “quick fixes” to problems compared to Mr Bellew who was described as being more methodical in his approach to solving difficulties.

Mr O’Leary accepted that he had warned Mr Bellew that if he did not improve his performance his job was at risk, but rejected Mr Rogers’ suggestion that Mr Bellew was “a dead man walking” within the company following the 2019 annual review.  “I would be absolutely stunned if he had taken that view,” Mr O’Leary said.

Mr O’Leary who said he doesn’t use or have an email account, and deletes his text messages on a daily basis, further denied that he had ever been abusive to Mr Bellew. Mr O’Leary also described a claim that Mr Bellew had helped Ryanair at a hearing after a complaint made to the Irish Aviation Authority arising out of an incident in July 2018.  It was put to Mr O’Leary that he had fired the crew located in Germany after it had used its discretion not to fly due to fatigue and exhaustion. A complaint was made to the IAA who conducted a hearing into the matter, the court heard.  It was put to Mr O’Leary that Mr Bellew had attended the meeting and was instrumental in ensuring that the IAA reduced a lesser sanction than had originally been envisaged.  Mr O’Leary said the account of events as advanced to the court was “completely untrue.” He denied firing the crew and said while questions of safety should not have been put to him, (he) said that all health and safety issues were fully addressed by the relevant persons in Ryanair. Mr Bellew he said was not involved in such matters and said that at all times the airline fully adheres to all applicable health and safety requirements. Mr O’Leary concluded his evidence to the court.

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FRIDAY DECEMBER 6

Eddie Wilson, chief executive of Ryanair Designated Activity Company, the airline group’s main [Irish] subsidiary, told the High Court that Mr Bellew knows why it costs the Irish carrier €14 less than its British rival to fly each passenger. “At 100m passengers, that’s €1.4 billion in costs,” Mr Wilson said. “People would kill to get that information.”

Ryanair’s chief commercial officer, David O’Brien, pointed out that the key difference between the two airlines was cost, which allowed the Irish player to charge customers less than EasyJet. [AD: There is also a revenue difference of the same broad order]. He said that EasyJet would compete for 24pc of Ryanair’s business this winter. He explained that as EasyJet was the smaller of the two airlines, this amounted to 38pc of the British carrier’s seats. Responding to questions from Mr Bellew’s senior counsel, John Rogers, Mr O’Brien confirmed that by “capacity” he meant aircraft seats. Mr Bellew has pledged to honour confidentiality agreements with Ryanair when he joins his new employer. However, his lawyers argued on Friday that as Mr Bellew has been isolated since July, when he confirmed his move to EasyJet, and not attended management meetings, he has had little access to any confidential information that is relevant to Ryanair’s competitors.

TUESDAY DECEMBER 10

Senior Ryanair employees told the High Court that its outgoing Chief Operations Officer Peter Bellew was slow to make decisions on issues raised with him. Adrian Dunne and Neal McMahon who both hold senior positions with Ryanair told the Court that they had both reported to Mr Bellew before he announced he was leaving the airline. Mr Dunne, in reply to Martin Hayden SC for Ryanair, said that Mr Bellew had not signed off on decisions to make salary increases for airline managers based at Stansted in the UK.

He also said that issues concerning important capital expenditure in Spain that he had raised with Mr Bellew were not brought up at meetings attended by the airline’s senior managers known as Zs. He said Mr Bellew informed him that these issues were under consideration by Ryanair group CEO Michael O’Leary. Mr Dunne said after some time he raised the issues directly with Mr O’Leary, who claimed he knew nothing about them, and then made decisions on the issues raised.

Under cross-examination by Tom Mallon BL for Mr Bellew, Mr Dunne did not accept the contention that Mr O’Leary knew about the issues including the proposed pay increases and had sat on them. Mr Dunne also accepted that the first memo where he wrote down issues he had with Mr Bellew was done after it was announced that Mr Bellew was leaving the airline. Mr McMahon said that he too had raised issues about the time it took Mr Bellew to make a decision.  He said that after waiting for several weeks he also went directly to Mr O’Leary after he sought to have pay increases improved for important staff involved in the training of pilots.

In reply to a question from the Judge another Ryanair executive Eddie Wilson, who is the airline’s former head of people and current Ryanair DAC CEO, said he was one of eight senior executives in the organisation known as Z. He said that the Z have meetings every week, which are attended by Mr O’Leary. When asked if Mr O’Leary could be described as the airline’s “capo di tutti i capi” or boss of bosses he said that he “would not necessarily agree with that particular description.” The case continues before Mr Justice Allen, who at the conclusion of today’s hearing warned that the longer the case progressed the lesser the chance that the Court will be in a position to give its decision before Christmas.

At the outset of the resumed hearing, Mr Senan Allen lifted a reporting restriction imposed on the media of a figure contained in a question put by Mr Bellew’s counsel John Rogers SC to Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary.  When cross-examining Mr O’Leary in relation to share option schemes offered to senior employees, Mr Rogers asked the Ryanair boss if it had set a profit target for the year [to end Mar 2020]of €1.75bn. Mr O’Leary did not answer that question and told the Judge that he could not do so as the making public of any profit targets was a breach of stock market rules.

Following an intervention by Martin Hayden SC for Ryanair Mr Justice Allen said he was imposing a restriction on the media reporting the figure of €1.75bn, but that he would revisit that figure. Lawyers for INM, which is the publisher of the Irish Independent and (for) the Irish Times, represented by Tom Murphy BL, attended Court last week and raised concerns about the order.  At the outset Mr Hayden said that after considering the matter, and the fact Mr O’Leary had not said anything in response to the question that breached market rules, Ryanair was no longer seeking to have the reporting restriction kept in place. Counsel added that it was Ryanair’s view that the question should not have been asked in the first place. Mr Rogers said he was not making any comment to that assertion. The current guidance given by Ryanair to the Stock Exchange is for a profit after tax of €800-900mm

WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 11

The High Court refused Ryanair’s application to include evidence about the alleged downloading of material from its internal computer system by Peter Bellew in its ongoing action against its Chief Operations Officer. Mr Justice Senan Allen ruled that evidence that the airline sought to introduce as part of its bid to enforce a non-compete clause contained in Mr Bellew’s contract of employment was “irrelevant” to the issues the Court must decide in the case.

The material that Ryanair sought to introduce consisted of an expert forensic report where it is alleged Mr Bellew on three occasions since July, when he announced his intention to leave Ryanair and join easyJet, had accessed and downloaded information onto company devices, including an iPhone and iPad used by him.  Ryanair, represented by Martin Hayden SC, (which) had accepted that there might be a perfectly innocent explanation to the matters contained in the report, sought to have the report included as part of its action against Mr Bellew. However, the Judge said that the proposed evidence was irrelevant. The Judge added that he was not prepared to allow “an inquisition” into matters contained in the report on what was the sixth day of a case where the Court hopes to be in a position to give a decision before the Christmas holidays. To admit this particular evidence to the case, the Judge added, would prolong the hearing by some days and would inevitably delay the Court’s decision.

The Judge also deemed an incident on 27 November last, where it was alleged by Ryanair that Mr Bellew was going to remove a confidential document, printed by his colleague Neal McMahon, from the Ryanair premises as also being irrelevant. The Court heard that it is Mr Bellew’s case that he took the confidential document in error, while he had been printing other documents on the printer, which was used by up to seven people in Ryanair. Once he realised it was in his possession he returned the document to Mr McMahon, the Court heard. Issues concerning the printer were also contained in the expert report which Ryanair had sought to include in the action.

The Judge made the ruling following an application by Mr Bellew’s counsel John Rogers SC who asked the Court to “curtail” Ryanair who he said was attempting to undermine his client’s reputation. Mr Rogers said that his side would require additional time to secure an expert to challenge the contents of the forensic report. Counsel added what was being alleged against Mr Bellew in relation to what he had done with confidential material was “spurious” and “emphasised Michael O’Leary’s role in all of this”. Following the Court’s ruling, Mr Hayden, appearing with Neil Murphy BL, said Ryanair’s case has now concluded and accepted that the proposed evidence would not be used in this action.

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The Court also heard evidence from Karsten Muhlenfeld, Ryanair’s Director of Maintenance and Engineering. He said that he had difficulties in getting decisions from Mr Bellew, who was his immediate superior in the organisation. The issues raised with Mr Bellew included the recruitment of additional engineering staff, getting pay increases for staff, and securing additional facilities for the airline.

Under cross-examination by Tom Mallon BL for Mr Bellew, Mr Muhlenfeld accepted that Mr Bellew had done important work helping the engineering section which was of benefit to Ryanair. When asked if he believed that Mr Bellew and Michael O’Leary’s relationship had deteriorated over time he replied “I am an engineer. I don’t do belief. Belief is for Church.”  He said he did not know anything about Mr Bellew’s and Mr O’Leary’s relationship. All he could say was that in recent times Mr Bellew and Mr O’Leary had not met each other as much as they had done previously.

THURSDAY DECEMBER 12

Ryanair group chief executive, Michael O’Leary, organised monthly meetings last year to discuss pilot absenteeism involving himself, Mr Bellew and others, the High Court heard on Thursday. Mr Bellew told the Court that Mr O’Leary often became bad tempered at these meetings and “screamed and shouted” at some staff. He added that it was clear that Mr O’Leary wanted the pilots subject to “steadfast” discipline, while Mr Bellew felt that this would disillusion those staff further with the airline during a period when many of them were threatening to strike.  Mr Bellew said that he should have done more to stop Mr O’Leary as the meetings “had bad outcomes” for a number of people. “I regret that I did not stand up more to him,” he stressed.

Mr O’Leary last week told the Court that he organised the meetings because he was concerned about a small number of pilots who called in sick either just before or just after taking time off.  He pointed out that Ryanair was doing no more than any other good employer would in the same situation and wanted to encourage the pilots to improve their attendance at work. The issue was one of a number where Mr O’Leary and Mr Bellew clashed over the chief operating officer’s performance last year.

Mr Bellew told the Court that relations between him and Mr O’Leary deteriorated from around July 2018, following a positive start to his time as chief operations officer, which began when he rejoined Ryanair in December 2017 from Malaysia Air. He said that safety regulators “screamed and shouted” at Ryanair representatives during a meeting to discuss the sacking of four cabin crew last year.  The airline dismissed the crew for refusing to fly from Cologne to Palma. Ryanair maintains that this happened following an internal investigation and disciplinary procedure.  Mr Bellew, told the Court that the IAA was unhappy with the incident.  He recalled that authority officials partially investigated it before calling (a) meeting with Ryanair representatives that he attended on 1 August 2018.  Mr Bellew described the meeting as the most difficult he had ever attended with a safety authority. “I had never heard a regulator screaming and shouting at airline management before,” he said. Mr Bellew maintained that the IAA could have made a finding against Ryanair, but he convinced its officials that this was unwarranted. Instead he said that the authority and airline agreed a new protocol for dealing with such incidents in the future.

FRIDAY DECEMBER 13

Mr Bellew told the Court that the 2018 share scheme was dead and gone. “It doesn’t exist,” he said. “It’s not in any set of audited accounts of the company.”  He added that Ryanair’s audited accounts detail every share scheme going back five years, but not the 2018 options.  Mr Bellew claimed that the 2018 scheme was “worthless” as it was tied to “unattainable” profit after tax targets. He added that this was why Ryanair had replaced it with a new share option plan begun this year.

He told the High Court that Michael O’Leary roared and shouted at him and said “You are fucking useless,” at meetings of the airline’s senior executives. Mr Bellew said he was “screamed at” by Mr O’Leary at meetings between Ryanair and the senior executives known as Zs. He said Mr O’Leary had raised serious issues with him and was critical of his performance as COO in a note to Mr Bellew in November 2018 and in his annual review in March 2019.

On what was his second day under cross-examination by Martin Hayden SC for Ryanair, Mr Bellew said he did not accept the criticism directed at him and described Mr O’Leary’s behaviour towards him as “unreasonable.”  He told the Court that as COO he had reached all the targets that Mr O’Leary had set for him, and added that the Ryanair board had no issue with his performance.  He said that it was “very clear” that Mr O’Leary wanted him gone.

In reply to Mr Hayden, who asked was it not a case that “if Mr O’Leary wanted him gone he would have been gone,” Mr Bellew said that he believed that Mr O’Leary would not have fired him until after the company’s “contentious” AGM in September 2019. [This was contentious re the independence of the Chairman and other long-serving directors and the remuneration report, incl how it applied to Mr O’Leary].

Under cross-examination, Mr Bellew accepted that he commenced talks with easyJet about the possibility of taking up a position with that airline in April 2019. He accepted that all airlines are in competition with Ryanair, and said that when he was in talks with easyJet, an airline which has always recognised trade unions, (he) didn’t want “the baggage” of Ryanair which he said included a culture of screaming at people. He told the Court that he did not make up his mind to leave until a few days after being asked by Michael O’Leary to go to Vienna and work full time at Laudamotion for six months.

Mr Bellew said he made what was difficult decision to go to EasyJet after talking over the move with his wife, but felt he had no option other than to quit. He accepted Counsel’s suggestion he did not tell Michael O’Leary that he was joining easyJet the day he handed in his resignation last July but denied Mr O’Leary’s contention that he told the Ryanair boss he was going travelling.  He also accepted Counsel’s contention that a few days later he told Mr O’Leary he was going to easyJet but did not tell him that it was being publically announced by easyJet the following day.

He said that he did not believe he was bound by the non-compete clause in his contract. after he was not offered share options for 2019, to replace a 2018 scheme.  He said he was included in the 2018 scheme, but due to various factors that scheme, which he said was not referred to in two of Ryanair’s company reports, became “worthless”.  He had hoped that he would be included but realised in July after being asked to go to Austria he was finished in Ryanair. In reply to counsel, he said he was “misled” by Mr O’Leary as he said the airline’s remuneration committee had approved him as a participant in the 2019 share option scheme but was never told of this by the Ryanair boss. He only learned of the committee’s decision in the course of preparing for the legal action when documents were exchanged between the parties.

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