AA boss fired over hotel punch-up blames booze and pills for 'sustained attack'

Robert Mendick
Bob Mackenzie - Julian Simmonds

The Automobile Association chairman sacked for assaulting a colleague is blaming a cocktail of alcohol and pills for the ‘sustained attack’ that was caught on a hotel camera.

Friends of Bob Mackenzie, 64, have insisted he snapped in a moment of folly as a result of mixing the prescription drug diazepam with two pints of beer and two glasses of white wine.

The attack on Mike Lloyd, who heads up the AA’s insurance division, was caught on a security camera in the bar of a country hotel where senior executives had been holding a strategy meeting.

The footage was handed over to the AA which used it as evidence to dismiss Mr Mackenzie for gross misconduct. The attack, said to have lasted as long as two minutes, meant Mr Mackenzie missed out on a massive payout through share options reckoned to be worth in the region of £68 million.

Mr Mackenzie, who has homes in London and in Warwickshire, has now hired lawyers to argue he was unfairly dismissed due to the pressure he was under in his role as AA executive chairman. 

Bob Mackenzie Credit: Julian Simmonds

According to a friend’s version of events, Mr Mackenzie had been prescribed diazepam in the days before the strategy meeting at the Pennyhill Park Hotel in Surrey on July 24. He was fired a week later on August 1.

A friend of Mr Mackenzie’s said: “He doesn’t dispute there was a punch up. There is a CCTV in the hotel. It was captured on video.

“Nobody is saying he didn’t instigate it [the attack]. But he was in a bad way.

“He was under a lot of pressure. In the weeks before the attack, it [the stress] had been getting to him. He was unwisely taking medication and drinking at the same time. On the night he drank two pints of beer and two glasses of wine.”

Mike Lloyd

Late in the evening, Mr Mackenzie began throwing punches at Mr Lloyd, who at 39 is 25 years his boss’s junior. “The chap [Mr Lloyd] is half Bob’s age. Bob is a bit doddery,” said the friend, adding that Mr Mackenzie had held his colleague in high regard and had clearly no intention of hurting him - nor the ability to do so.

It is understood that Mr Lloyd absorbed the blows and protected his face with hands. “I am sure it is the case that he [Bob] could not have done him any damage,” said the friend. The next day Mr Mackenzie offered Mr Lloyd an apology.

Lawyers for Mr Mackenzie have now written to AA board members and directors individually asking for their version of events in the aftermath of the altercation.

Mr Mackenzie’s legal team will try to argue that the chairman should not have been fired and classed as a “bad leaver” which prevents him cashing in on 33 million performance related shares he was given when he floated the company on the stock exchange two years ago. The latest annual report shows Mr Mackenzie was paid £1.36 million a year, which included a basic salary of £750,000.

Pennyhill Park Hotel Credit: Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy

His lawyers will argue that he was under huge stress and that drove him to behave in the way he did. 

Mr Mackenzie’s eldest son Peter said in a statement: “The purpose of the letter is to get to the bottom of the detail of Bob’s dismissal.  It appears to us that due process was not observed and that there are vitally important consequences and questions to be answered as a result.

“We make no allegations at this stage but we are determined to get answers to our questions.”

Peter Mackenzie had previously denied his father had been sacked but had instead offered his resignation on the advice of a clinical psychologist who had advised him to take time off work.

Bob Mackenzie on holiday in Barbados

A source close to the AA said the video footage showed a “sustained attack” on Mr Lloyd, who had defended himself rather than fight back. The source said: “What Bob did was shocking.

"The whole brand of the AA is built on trust. It is a reputable company. You can’t have the chairman attacking colleagues. The Board made the difficult decision to do the right thing and to get rid of him.”

The AA has declined to comment beyond a statement issued on August 1, which said Mr Mackenzie had been “removed by the Board from his role as Executive Chairman, from his other roles and as a Director and as an employee of the Company for gross misconduct, with immediate effect”.

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