%mlink(STRY:; PHOTO:; AUDIO:%)

LONDON (AP) _ Lawyers for a financial services firm accused of using the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to poach employees from a devastated rival told a court Thursday that the tragedy had nothing to do with the case.

Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees in the attacks on the World Trade Center, has sued rival ICAP, accusing it of plotting to exploit the tragedy and lure away key employees.

Attorneys for ICAP told Judge Richard McCombe that three Cantor staff members had left because their terms of employment had been altered and they were being treated poorly at the firm's office in London.

``This has nothing to do with Sept. 11. As far as Sept. 11 is concerned, the impact on London was minimal,'' ICAP lawyer Andrew Hochhauser said.

``This is a fight about what happened in London. It is a fight about whether or not there was a constructive dismissal,'' Hochhauser said.

Constructive dismissal is a British term for being forced out through mistreatment.

Cantor's lawyer, Andrew Hillier, told the judge on Tuesday that three of Cantor's London-based brokers _ Edward Bird, Spencer Gill and Luigi Boucher _ left Cantor for ICAP in April, before their contracts expired.

Hillier said Cantor wanted damages from the three for breaking their contracts, the return of a loan to Gill and of bonuses paid to all three.

Cantor also is asking the High Court to order ICAP to pay damages for allegedly inducing the brokers to break their contracts and wants an injunction to ban ICAP from approaching Cantor employees for the next six months.

Hochhauser said poor working conditions, not poaching, had caused ``an exodus'' from Cantor's interest-rate divisions desk in London.

``They all left protesting that they were subject to undue pressure,'' he said.

Hochhauser also said the management style of Cantor senior executive Danny LaVecchia was ``domineering and bullying.''

Hillier countered that once the three key employees left, particularly Spencer Gill, it became ``open season at Cantor's.''

``All the vultures were going to come round to pick off these people, as there was a major destabilization of the desk. It was more injurious to Cantor's that these people should be leaving,'' Hillier said.

ICAP says that far from exploiting the tragedy, it pledged $500,000 for the widows and orphans of its rival's employees. It also said Cantor had a history of poaching and in 1999, was ordered by Britain's Court of Appeal to pay $1.67 million in damages for taking about 20 of ICAP's employees.

ICAP's chief executive Michael Spencer issued a statement saying, ``Cantor's is a highly speculative claim which we strenuously oppose. We intend to defend our position robustly in court and anticipate a positive outcome.''

The hearing, which began Tuesday, is being held in London because ICAP is based in Britain.

At Tuesday's hearing, Hillier said e-mails written by Spencer and another ICAP senior executive to each other exposed their plan.

In one e-mail dated Oct. 11, Spencer was alleged to have said: ``I would love to plan a heist.'' In another, he alleged said: ``Oh, I would love to put one up their bottom ... and this is the time I have been waiting for just a few years.''

Cantor said it obtained copies of the e-mails as part of the discovery process in the case.

``We all once regretted the invention of the fax. Somebody is going to regret the invention of the e-mail,'' judge McCombe said.