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Saturday 12 July 2014

Rocca may testify against Morrison as PR heavyweight takes singer to court

NIAMH HORAN

Published 02/12/2012|05:00

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Van Morrison and Michelle Rocca could end up facing each other in the High Court – in a case that has captivated attention around the globe.

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The dramatic development centres on a legal action which is being brought to Dublin's Four Courts by PR heavyweight John Saunders.

Saunders, regional president for Europe, Middle East and Africa at public relations giant Fleishman-Hillard, has initiated proceedings against Morrison claiming damages for misrepresentation, negligence, breach of duty and breach of contract.

The Sunday Independent has learned that Rocca may be called to testify as a witness against the famously reclusive singer.

If so she is likely to be asked to give evidence regarding her account of what actually happened on the key days following Christmas 2009 when a mysterious message was posted on the official Van Morrison website and the world first learned that the singer had fathered a love child.

The message stated that the singer, who was married to Michelle Rocca at the time, had fathered a baby boy with a Texan music producer named Gigi Lee.

The statement read: "Gigi and Van Morrison are proud to announce the birth of their first son, George Ivan Morrison III. 'Little Van', born December 28, 2009 – the spitting image of his daddy."

The message was quickly removed from the website and the singer branded it a hoax.

As a source close to Rocca explained: "Michelle and John Saunders have been friends for many, many years. And John knew Morrison through Michelle.

"When the news broke that Van had fathered a love child John subsequently went live on radio to defend Michelle's husband against the allegations.

"John said that the posting was completely untrue and without foundation.

"He also said that Van did not know Gigi Lee."

As the days went on, it transpired that Morrison did in fact know the Texan.

A photograph of the star and Ms Lee together emerged. Ms Lee also emailed reporters to insist the baby was Morrison's.

The source continued: "When it transpired that the posting was true, it was totally embarrassing for Saunders from a professional point of view.

"Now, because of John's close relationship with Michelle, she could be asked to give evidence in the case. Although it is not clear what the nature of that evidence will be."

The 67-year-old entertainer is notoriously guarded, never giving interviews about his private life.

When they met in the Nineties, Rocca, who was Dublin's original 'It' girl at the time, also turned her back on public life, and became as reclusive as her famous husband.

But three years ago, the couple were propelled back into the spotlight following the announcement and gossip mills went into overdrive.

Saunders is being represented by the same heavy weight legal team that secured €500,000 in damages for Louis Walsh last week in his battle against The Sun newspaper, Paul Tweed, Gavin Bonnar and senior counsel Jim O'Callaghan.

Tweed, whose clients include Liam Neeson, Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Nicolas Cage, also acted with O'Callaghan for former model Rosanna Davison when she won her mammoth court battle against Ryanair.

High-profile barrister Mr Bonnar, who is married to Sharon Corr, has also represented a number of A-listers including the late Whitney Houston.

In Morrison's corner, sits entertainment legal eagle Philip Lee who is expected to argue on behalf of Morrison that Saunders had not been authorised to speak on RTE Radio and that the singer's own solicitors had contradicted the statement made by Saunders within three days.

When contacted Tweed would only confirm that he is acting for John Saunders and that his client is determined to get his case before the court at the earliest possible opportunity. But he refused to comment on whether Michelle Rocca would be required to take the stand for Saunders to testify against Morrison.

Proceedings were issued on February 14. There is currently a motion out by Saunders' legal team to compel Morrison to provide his defence. The case is expected to be heard before a High Court judge between May and July.

It will follow a difficult three years for the singer.

Last year the mother and child passed away in separate but equally tragic circumstances. Gigi Lee died from throat cancer on October 7, 2011– exactly a year after his youngest son died suddenly after slipping into a diabetic coma.

News of both deaths only emerged months after the deaths, sending shockwaves rippling through the music world.

The 44-year-old Texan died at the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast. She had moved across the Atlantic with baby George to be close to Morrison, and settled in Newtownards.

Morrison's lawyers had gone to court in an attempt to prevent reporting of details surrounding the youngster's death and other "private" material. At the hearing his legal team stated that Morrison still did not accept paternity of the baby.

Lee is understood to have been diagnosed with cancer shortly before George's birth. Speaking about her illness following her death, her childhood friend Carla Higdon explained: "She pulled back her hair and showed me a lump in her neck. It was huge."

She added: "They told her that the tumour had wound itself around her carotid artery and if they tried to remove it, her face would be paralysed and her speech would be impaired. She was in great pain and she was very shaken. She was afraid most of all for the baby."

Lee later made the brave decision not to undergo radiation treatment while pregnant, in order to protect her unborn child.

Sunday Independent

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