The three week action at London’s Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, sees the £5 million fee dispute between Richard Butler-Creagh, and Aida Dellal Hersham (and nebulously Cherrilow Ltd) over Fawley Court’s mystifyingly reduced “£22.5m to £13m sale”, get off to a cracking start!
Creagh alleges he is owed £5m for his part in getting the Marian trustee-priests to reduce their Fawley Court “special closing down sale” price from £22.5m to £13m, and for passing on this exclusive deal, “contract” to Ms Aida Dellal Hersham. Ms Hersham (or is it Cherrilow Ltd?), refuse to pay, and are counterclaiming for £4.5m, alleging that no such agreement with Creagh was ever made, and that Creagh’s role has allegedly cost them £4.5m in wasted money and work;
Allegations, and counter-allegations abound; “lies”… “many deceits”… “fraudulent misrepresentation”… “a thoroughly false document”… “corrupt plan”… “shocking aspect”… “confidence trickster”… the hiring of “private investigators”… and again “lies” and more “lies”… and for good measure… “an obvious lie” and ”dumb liars”… “phoney”… with “a close croney”… and (for the less faint-hearted) SHYSTER (!)… and more. The invective cascades like loose-change winnings from a fawlty Las Vegas one-arm bandit fruit machine.
At a pre-trial hearing Justice Sir David Eady ruled against Polish Action Group (PAG) being adjoined to the trial. Interestingly, Devonshire Solicitors (for Butler-Creagh) remained “neutral” and did not oppose PAG, whilst Grosvenor Law (for Cherrilow Ltd), and John Hume (for Aida Dellal Hersham) did object. At the the same time Justice Eady slashed Solicitors John Hume’s pre-trial hearing costs from £7,500 to £3,000! Curiously, when PAG promptly settled the £3,000 bill by cheque to J. Hume Solicitors, this was returned, with a request that it be paid “direct” to Ms Aida Hersham! Earlier Ms Hersham indicated that this sum could be put to a “better purpose…”(sic).
Meantime, PAG and FCOB, become a vigilant observers of the trial, they sit in the court press box (or jury area), get relevant documents, and are treated with the utmost courtesy; watching the unfolding drama with utter disbelief.
“Did the Marian Fathers know about the £5million fee agreement?”and the “favoured son of the Catholic Church?” plus “Forged signatures”.
The trial commences at 10 am on Monday 11 July, in Court Room No. 13, with opening speeches from counsel James Lewis QC for Richard Butler-Creagh (the Claimant/Plaintiff) and “unusually” two Queens Counsel, John Brisby QC for Aida Dellal Hersham (Defendant) and Stephen Auld QC for Cherrilow Ltd (the Defendants/Counter-Claimants). Presiding over the trial, perceptive, impassive and “sitting like an owl” is top judge Justice Sir David Eady (67), noted for his “innovative” and to some, highly controversial recent (“Human Rights”), libel and media privacy rulings. He now rarely sits on such cases.
Tellingly, early on, Justice Eady, poses the question to counsel (Mr James Lewis QC), whether the Marians; “ knew about the £5million fee agreement (owed) to Richard Butler-Creagh?”. The Judge is told “No”.
We move onto the issue of emails; it appears crucial emails – on Aida Hersham’s computer(s) – had been deleted, and had to be recovered off the “index” by experts. These emails it is argued could show whether there was a written £5m fee agreement in Butler-Creagh’s favour. Indeed, it is alleged one such document is a forgery. Does it carry Aida Hersham’s real signature? There is much argument over who really is Cherrilow Ltd. Whether Aida Hersham was/is part of this offshore Jersey outfit or not? Who pulls the strings? Save for one name, that of Director Paul Sewell, the Court and public at large (under rules of disclosure) are forbidden from finding out the faces of “Cherrilow Trust”, or indeed its “settlors” or “beneficiaries”. Extraordinary.
Cherrilow Ltd was specially set up in offshore Jersey (it is unclear, whether initially together by both Mr Creagh and Ms Hersham), as a UK tax efficient/tax avoidance company (legal), known as a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV). This system generally costs the exchequer and British public, much in lost tax and revenue (stamp duty).
Mr Stephen Auld QC rises his lips curling like a flexible stiletto. He twists his blade into Richard Butler-Creagh calling him everything under the sun, from “confidence trickster” and “shyster”(one who uses unprofessional or unscrupulous business methods), to making: “fraudulent misrepresentations”, “corrupt plans”, “thoroughly false documents” and telling “lies” to the Marians (oh dear), and ingratiating himself to them as “a favoured son of the Catholic Church” (it is believed Mr Creagh is Church of England). Worse still, it is implied that Mr Creagh is a co-forger and untrustworthy. All not very nice. Well, at least not for Mr Creagh (whose name ominously John Brisby QC and Stephen Auld QC sometimes pronounce as “Kray”).
“Nightmarish project”, “A claim for thieves”, “Many deceits” and “ASK THE MARIANS !”… ”THEY DID NOT HAVE TO SELL FAWLEY COURT!”… “ THEY CHOSE TO!”
The onslaught on Mr Creagh, in submission and in person, is relentless; particularly by Stephen Auld QC (for Cherrilow Ltd), who makes much of the fact that Mr Creagh’s £5m fee claim is one of “deceit”, that his “overstated” valuations and references were a “ragbag of documents”. Mr Creagh’s ability to gain from the poor Marian Fathers an “exclusivity contract” precluding and stopping any other Fawley Court buyer (news of which will of course horrify the true “owners” – Polonia) and his purporting to be worth over £40m, was all a “falsity”. The Court hears further names. Of particular interest is that of Ms Alexa Beale from the Marians’ solicitors, Pothecary Witham Weld (who will make a five minute guest appearance later in the trial). Mr Creagh is essentially accused of wanting his £5m fee for doing nothing and overseeing the supposedly “nightmarish project” (later all “derailed”, and abandoned) of redeveloping Fawley Court into a hotel and residential units!
Apparently, the £13m Fawley Court investment (sale price), was meant to yield a £32m profit within two years! But things turned sour. Apart from an alleged input of £1m (“without security”) from an investor, solicitor Edward Landau, “a good friend of Mrs Hersham” and partner at property lawyers Howard Kennedy (who registered the sale), the project is very heavily debt-driven. Mostly through loans advanced by Credit Suisse. Today, this huge international bank with a first charge on Fawley Court, has on its books an asset bedeviled with dire problems.
The Court and Justice Eady hears how this “unique” estate in new hands lurches from one crisis to another: flood-plain insurance problems, planning permission for a hotel is impossible, rights of way and exhumations are a huge obstacle, workers are sacked, funds are running out (are there any?), purchase of North Lodge or Toad Hall becomes a distant option… Even the protected bats (Plecotus auritis) under the roof eaves and moles (molehill mounds ruining the lawns), join in the “fun” and refuse to budge. And so the chaotic list goes on. It is, as Counsel say, “A Nightmarish Project!”
Later, under fierce cross-examination over how the “sale” was really achieved, a flustered Mr Creagh challenges Mr Brisby QC, first by exclaiming: “THE MARIAN FATHERS DID NOT HAVE TO SELL FAWLEY COURT!” (how very true…), adding: “ASK THE MARIAN FATHERS!”, to which Mr Brisby QC (his lips also curl, chillingly rapier-like) ripostes: “I WILL !” He never does.
Why were the “vendors”, the Marian trustee-priests (clearly knowledgeable) never cross-examined? Trustee-priest Wojtek Jasinski was meant to give evidence in court, in person. Instead, he produced to court, in absentia, a startling witness statement. We finally learn that “Fawley Court was OFFERED to the POLISH congregation in the UK” When? How? Moreover, half a million pounds was knocked down, “negotiated” off the £22.5m price to preserve a “Restrictive Covenant” over St Anne’s Church, thus ensuring Polonia’s right to visit and worship at this unique shrine FOREVER! This is exactly in keeping with Prince Stanislaw Radziwill’s wishes and prescient Trust Deed of 15 August 1971.
Meanwhile we learn that Marian trustee-priests A. Gowkielewicz and W. Jasinski gave office accomodation to Mr Creagh’s money lending company Mainstream in Fawley Court’s main building for sixteen months prior to the “sale”. Was this rent free? If so, why? If not, where is the rent? Where are the receipts? The Marians should come clean on this, as with so very many other controversial issues associated with Fawley Court.
Aida Hersham in the dock… Tears of a sort… Tesco Ted: “IT’S AN ABSOLUTE STEAL!”… Plus some very higgledy-piggledy valuations… “Serious allegations of dishonesty on both sides.”
The witnesses come and go. For the claimant Mr Creagh, Junior Counsel Mr James Ramsden, softens up the queue of defendant witnesses. Tall, stork-like he stalks his witnesses with incisive, gentlemanly interrogation.
Deft forensic cross-examinations extricate momentous nuggets of truth and fact; extraordinary over-valuations and under-valuations, Bank, loan-to-valuation discrepancies (LTV’s), “forged signatures and forged credit references” the Charity Commission purportedly given routine reports on Fawley Court’s yo-yoing “knock-down sale price”, estate agents, valuers, bankers and offshore directors are all dragged into the mire, and shown up in a particularly unflattering light. You could not make it up. (We’ve heard that one already.) The serious, impassive, presiding Justice Eady has to put the brakes on proceedings, counseling caution with “… serious allegations of dishonesty on both sides!”
In the witness stand Ted Dadley, “Tesco Ted” (Senior Retail Director of Tesco) confirms he introduced Ms Hersham Aida to Richard Butler-Creagh. For this he got a hefty, fat fee – from Ms Hersham. Mr Dadley is firmly of the view that from £22.5m down to £16m and finally to £13m, Fawley Court is a cheap buy and an “absolute steal!” He’s also firm in his view that Mr Creagh has a £5m fee contract with Ms Hersham.
Finally Ms Aida Dellal Hersham is called to give evidence. Dressed in black zip dress-outfit, with red-rich puffy scarf, Ms Hersham has already shed tears in Court and in its corridors. The strain is enormous. She admits in private “…at NOT enjoying the trial”. This in any event is what we are asked to believe. Her “tormentor” is barrister James Lewis QC.
Like a genteel Mayfair butcher, Mr Lewis, of slight build, sets his stall out fussily but very precisely; you are as likely to have a free pork pie lobbed at you, as you are his weaponry of butchers’ knives. Poor Ms Hersham is given the works. Incredulously, Mr Lewis’s opening line is: “Ms Hersham, are you an honest person?” “Yes, I am” Ms Hersham replies. “(Would you)… if asked to, lie or commit fraud?” Her reply is: “No”.
There follow two and a half days of intensive cross-examination of Ms Hersham. She has to fend off some very serious allegations of forgery, duplicity, lying and fraud. Mr Lewis, every so often peering over his spectacles, ensuring he has Justice Eady’s undivided attention, lays into Ms Hersham: “Try not to be evasive”, “let’s not split hairs” and “mortgage fraud is a serious criminal offence”. There’s more, much more…
She survives the ordeal (but the judgement?) with a combination of persona (and dress-code) changes, counter allegations, wrong-footing, playing to the gallery and, it must be admitted, some (nervous) guts. But despite her adult, suave good looks, you can’t help feeling there is something of the wretched, artful, spoilt child about her… It’s all a bit of a business pantomime. But in this case with serious, tragic consequences and casualties. Ms Hersham appears to see this: “Stupid, shambolic, idiotic for me… a grown up woman”, or: “I’m pretty dumb at some points in my life. This is one of them.”
After three weeks this exhausting, highly “contentious and unusual” trial comes to an end. Justice Sir David Eady thanks everybody and announces that as it is the end of the Court Term his Judgement will not be available until October/November. We all wait with bated breath.