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John McCririck burns bridges with Channel 4 over £3m ageism claim 09/01/2013
Greg Wood
Racing pundit determined not to slip quietly into retirement

Less than a fortnight after he suggested that he still hoped to return to Channel 4 Racing, John McCririck burned his bridges with the station on Wednesday when he announced that he is to sue both the broadcaster and the producer of its racing coverage for a total of £3m in lost earnings and punitive damages.

McCririck has been one of the most visible and recognisable faces of racing among the wider public since making his debut as Channel 4's reporter in the betting ring in 1983. He has also achieved further celebrity, and notoriety, via appearances on reality television shows including Wife Swap and Celebrity Big Brother.

He was dropped from Channel 4's presenting team and replaced by Tanya Stevenson when the broadcaster chose IMG Sports Media to replace Highflyer as its production company for racing, following its acquisition of a monopoly on terrestrial coverage of the sport from January 2013.

After such an eccentric and florid broadcasting career, it would have been a mistake to expect McCririck to slip quietly into retirement. He also has a reputation as a man who harbours grudges. Nonetheless, both the vehemence of his attack on Channel 4 and IMG, and the size of his claim, seem surprising given that he recently described his long career at the station as "a privilege".

In a statement to the Press Association, McCririck alleged that he had been sacked as a result of ageism.

"After 29 years with Channel 4 Racing, on a rolling annual contract, I have been sacked without any consultation or cogent explanation," McCririck said. "I am 72. For the loss of future earnings, future earnings, unfair career damaging, public humiliation, stress and mental anguish, I will be seeking £500,000.

"Ageism is illegal. For tens of thousands of employees it has become the feared scourge of our society. This litigation should prove to be a watershed.

"I am seeking a further exemplary, punitive £2.5m, part of which will be donated to charitable organisations helping to prevent negative prejudice in the workplace."

As with so much where McCririck is concerned, his statement manages to blur the line between rhetorical bluster and the true depth of his convictions. Court cases can be almost as unpredictable as horse races, but any bookie offering a price on his chance of success, or a settlement at anything like the £3m he is claiming for, would make him significant odds-against.

Given that his lawyers will not be sending him a bill, McCririck may regard the action as a bet to nothing, but should it ever come to a full hearing, he may also see it as one more chance to play to the gallery. It is an opportunity he would be unlikely to spurn.

Channel 4 responded by saying it is "grateful" to McCririck for his contribution to its racing coverage, but added that "we reject the suggestions that discrimination on the basis of age played any part in the decision not to renew his freelance contract and we will be vigorously defending this claim."

McCririck has engaged both a solicitor and a QC prepared to work on his case on a no win, no fee basis. Stephen Beverley, his solicitor, has served papers on David Abraham, Jay Hunt and Jamie Aitchison, C4's chief executive, creative officer and sports editor respectively, and Carl Hicks, the executive producer of IMG Sports Media, seeking "full disclosure of all documents , phone records and emails" relating to the decision not to renew his contract.

Premier League Football