TV’s Noel Edmonds loses High Court property battle with one of his best friends
Published 03/11/2011 | 16:33
TELEVISION presenter Noel Edmonds today lost a High Court property battle with a businessman he described as "the brother he never had".
Mr Edmonds, 62, claimed that Ulrik Lawson, who ran a building, construction and development business with his wife Judy, had agreed to manage the refurbishment of his £1.3m (€1.5m) house in Exeter, Devon for "no fee".
Mr Lawson denied that work was carried out on "that basis" - saying he was a "construction professional" and "could not afford to work in such a way".
Judge David Wilcox said he did not accept that Mr Lawson "agreed to undertake the construction, design work and project management for cost as alleged by Mr Edmonds".
In a written judgment handed down in London today, the judge concluded that Mr Lawson had carried out work to the value of more than £600,000.
Judge Wilcox, who heard evidence at a trial in Bristol in September, said Mr Edmonds and Mr Lawson, who is in his early 50s, became close friends in 2005 after the presenter's marriage broke down.
The judge said Mr Edmonds received a "great deal of emotional support" from the Lawsons, who ran Lawson Developments based near Okehampton, Devon, and "from time to time" had used their home as his "base in England".
"The close relationship between the parties later became an impediment when they tried to objectively analyse their business arrangements," said Judge Wilcox.
"In evidence, Mr Edmonds described Mr Lawson as the brother he never had, and told the court of their shared recreational interests, common values and similar public school experiences, which included an element of bullying.
"Mr Lawson was more reticent but accepted that they had been close friends and then had sadly fallen out."
The judge said Edmonds bought the house - St Serf in Lyndhurst Road, Exeter - in October 2006 for £1.36m and sold it in August 2008 for more than £2m.
Edmonds had told the court he would not have bought the house had not been for "Ulrik's assertion" that he could turn it into "the first £2m house in Exeter", said the judge.
The judge said the house was "tired" and needed updating and it had been agreed that Mr Lawson would undertake renovation works and oversee the project.
"It is Mr Edmonds case that it was expressly agreed that Mr Lawson would manage the refurbishment for no fee," said the judge.
"Mr Lawson denies that work was carried out on that basis, contending that he was a construction professional and it was his living and he could not afford to work in such a way and did not agree to undertake works on that basis."
The judge added: " ... I do not accept that he (Mr Lawson) agreed to undertake the construction, design and project management for no cost as alleged by Mr Edmonds ..."
Surveyors representing both sides had assessed the value of the work done and the judge said he had concluded that the "total cost" was more than £600.000.
The judge said Edmonds' assistant, Maria Robertson, had "been willing to lie and dissemble to assist Mr Edmonds". He said he found her evidence about the time and content of some meetings "wholly unreliable".
Judge Wilcox said Edmonds had told the court of a meeting with Mr Lawson's father, Sir Richard Lawson, in February 2008.
Edmonds had given a "lengthy account" of the meeting and "painted a picture of a recently-widowed father wary of bailing out his unsuccessful and irresponsible son", said the judge.
Judge Wilcox said the presenter had said he had suggested that an independent expert should assess the value of work done at the house and had "shaken hands" with Sir Richard on "being bound by the findings".
The Lawsons said "no such meeting ever took place" and Sir Richard had told the court he had "never discussed his son in those terms".
"I find that there was never any such agreement entered into by Sir Richard Lawson and Mr Edmonds and Ms Robertson," said the judge.
"I also reject their evidence both of the timing and alleged content of that meeting."
Edmonds also lost a second, unrelated, High Court property fight with Mr Lawson today.
He had claimed he was owed £300,000 as part of a deal relating to the purchase and planned development of a £2 million mansion and estate in South Tawton, Devon.
But Judge Wilcox ruled against him, saying he was not entitled to a £300,000 payout from Mr Lawson.
The judge heard that Edmonds and Mr Lawson each invested £300,000 in the deal. He was told during a hearing in Bristol in September that the property - Wood House - was bought in 2006 and sold in 2008.
Edmonds had told the court that Mr Lawson had "persuaded" him to "come on board" by agreeing that his investment would be "repaid in priority" in the event of a sale. Mr Lawson was "adamant that there was no such promise made".
The judge said today, in a written ruling: "I do not accept there was any such promise made by Mr Lawson."