License article

Dispute with Eddie Murphy led to Mel B exit, court told

A custody dispute between former Spice Girl, Melanie Brown and actor Eddie Murphy was behind her decision to pull-out of the top rating Channel Seven television show, The X-Factor, a court has heard.

And Ms Brown’s current husband, Hollywood producer Stephen Belafonte, allegedly suggested that Seven could pay the legal costs of taking Murphy to court to secure custody so she and her children could return to Australia.

The revelations came during the ongoing court battle between television rivals Seven and Nine over the latter’s poaching of Ms Brown as a judge for the re-launch of Australia’s Got Talent.

Seven was furious at the move, declaring that Ms Brown had breached her contract with them to be a judge on its own flagship talent show X-Factor and immediately seeking an injunction in the NSW Supreme Court to prevent the singer from working for Nine or promoting any of its programs.

On Wednesday, the court heard that ‘Mel B’ had decided to pull out of The X-Factor because Eddie Murphy - with whom she has one child - refused to sign a consent form which would have allowed the child to get an Australian visa.

Late in the hearing a lawyer from Seven’s production department, Jane Oswald, said that Mr Belafonte had told her he ‘‘wasn’t interested’’ in paying the costs of taking Mr Murphy to court.


‘‘He [Mr Belafonte] said that unless [Channel Seven Executive] Brad Lyons was willing to bank roll the case he wasn’t interested in going to court to try and get Mr Murphy to sign the [consent] documents,’’ Ms Oswald said.

Seven did not bankroll the case and the documents were not signed, leading Ms Brown to pull out of X-Factor’s 2013 season.

The court heard that initially Mr Lyons, Channel Seven’s head of production, and Mr Belafonte had continued to talk amicably about the possibility of another role for the singer.

Mr Belafonte had reportedly told him ‘‘buddy, we’re Seven people through and though.’’

But their interactions became increasingly heated when news broke that Brown was joining America’s Got Talent, and Mr Lyons indicated that, under the terms of her agreement with Seven, Mel B was prevented from either working for a rival network in Australia or promoting programs that would appear on one.

‘‘Something has gone seriously wrong here,’’ Mr Lyons said in an email to Mr Belafonte on March 12.

‘‘Of course we agree that we couldn’t and wouldn’t stop Mel working overseas but you and I both agreed that if she was available to work in Australia then it would be with Seven."

Just days later it was revealed that Ms Brown was also joining Australia’s Got Talent on Channel Nine.

The hearing continues.

Correction: This story previously reported that Mel B and Eddie Murphy have two children together. This has been amended to one child.