A property developer has lost a multi-million pound lawsuit as a result of planning to “rip off” a holy order and an heiress over Fawley Court, a High Court judge has ruled.
The house, which is thought to have been designed by Sir Christopher Wren and may have inspired Toad Hall in the book The Wind in the Willows, has been the home of the Roman Catholic Marian Fathers for 55 years.
Richard Butler-Creagh, from Kingwood, made an initial successful bid, at £22.5 million, to purchase the property and its 60-acres of land, near Henley in Oxfordshire, when it was put up for sale in 2008.
However, Mr Justice Eady said the purchase was based on a “lie” that his offer was backed by the Bank of Ireland. He continued by saying that Mr Butler-Creagh then set about finding a “rich punter” to “step into his shoes” and take over the purchase for a lucrative fee, reported the Henley Standard.
In October 2008 he met Iranian heiress Aida Hersham, a property investor, in Henley and began negotiating with her to take over the bid for the house, which the judge said had been greatly over-valued.
He had claimed to have the benefit of an exclusivity arrangement with the vendors so that only he could buy it. He claimed that he was approached by Mrs Hersham, and agreed to facilitate her purchase for a fee of £5m. He also claimed to have negotiated the price down on her behalf.
Mrs Hersham, whose company Cherrilow Ltd, ended up paying £13 million when it acquired the 17th century house in April last year. Subsequently, Mr Butler-Creagh launched a lawsuit against Mrs Hersham claiming that she had agreed to pay him £5 million for allowing her to take over his interest and for “facilitating” the sale, reported the BBC.
The High Court heard that by the time Mrs Hersham had begun expressing interest in buying Mr Butler-Creagh lost his right to “exclusivity” and to lock other potential purchasers out of the deal.
On speaking about the case Mr Justice Eady said: “She too was to be deceived into thinking that Mr Butler-Creagh still had exclusivity or a ‘lock out’ agreement, which meant that she had to deal with him.
“The intention was to ‘rip off’ both her and Marian Fathers, although I suspect that in Mrs Hersham he had met his match.”
Mr Butler-Creagh’s plan to make £5 million “for doing effectively nothing” failed as the High Court in London dismissed his claim saying he had concocted a scheme to earn this sum as commission. He had placed himself between the ultimate purchaser and the Marian Fathers because he knew that he couldn’t acquire Fawley Court on his own. He had deceived the Marian Fathers by giving them the false impression that he had the means and the intention to purchase the property himself by pretending that he was a necessary intermediary.
“In truth, and in law, he had no other role than as an ‘officious bystander’”, the judge said.
The judge allowed a claim for deceit against Mr Butler-Creagh by Cherrilow, which claims it is almost £10million out of pocket.
Mrs Hersham said after the hearing: “This fraud neither deserved nor warranted the public forum it received. Having gone through such a traumatic experience, it is going to take some time to get back to normal life. Once I have caught my breath, I intend to focus all of my energies on the restoration of Fawley Court.”
Mr Butler-Creagh said: “There are numerous points of law that my lawyers and I feel justify contesting and we will be appealing the decision.
“However, I am very concerned about the impact on my own personal reputation as implied in the court’s interpretation of events.
“In particular, I repudiate the suggestion that I had no chance of developing the project myself and was looking for a ‘rich punter’ to be talked into an unrealistic deal.
“I had several concepts for Fawley Court, including developing it as a hotel, and had both the experience and potential investors to explore this and other options.”
He could now face a multi-million compensation claim by the company but says he will appeal.