Tuesday 20 March 2018

Duncan Bannatyne provided false evidence during divorce money fight, says judge

The judge said Duncan Bannatyne had corrected
The judge said Duncan Bannatyne had corrected "the situation"

Businessman and television personality Duncan Bannatyne provided false evidence during a divorce money fight with his former wife, a judge has said.

Judge David Hodge said Mr Bannatyne's aim was to mislead a court for financial gain.

The judge said Mr Bannatyne later corrected "the situation".

Detail emerged in a ruling by the judge after Mr Bannatyne became involved in a legal fight with a newspaper publisher over whether the public could be told what he did.

The judge ruled in favour of Associated Newspapers, which publishes the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday.

He said there was a public interest in exposing attempts to mislead a court even if the person making such attempts had repented.

Mr Bannatyne was ordered to foot lawyers' bills run up by Associated Newspapers.

Judge Hodge analysed the dispute at a High Court hearing in Manchester last month.

Mr Bannatyne and his ex-wife had been involved in a "fraught divorce", said Judge Hodge.

They had then become embroiled in a legal dispute over money.

Their cash dispute had been settled - on terms approved by a judge nearly three years ago.

Mr Bannatyne had subsequently become embroiled in a separate legal dispute with a former employee.

Graham Armstrong - a former chief executive of a fitness company run by Mr Bannatyne - had earlier this year claimed damages for wrongful dismissal.

Judge Hodge indicated that the litigation had yet to reach a conclusion.

And detail of evidence given by Mr Bannatyne when he was arguing over money with his ex-wife had emerged in court documents relating to the Armstrong case.

Associated Newspapers wanted access to material in those documents.

But Mr Bannatyne said "certain parts of the statements" should be redacted - and not made public.

Judge Hodge said that, during the divorce money dispute, Mr Bannatyne had provided evidence which "misrepresented" the terms of a business agreement relating to money.

The businessman had subsequently expressed "deep regret" for the manner in which the agreement had "previously been misrepresented" and apologised.

Barrister Julian Wilson, for Mr Bannatyne, said the divorce money dispute had been private litigation.

He said any interest in reporting information which emerged during that private dispute was outweighed by the "competing interest in maintaining the privacy and confidentiality of the divorce financial remedy proceedings".

Mr Wilson also said Mr Bannatyne had "made a clean breast" of "previously misleading evidence", had "repented", corrected "previously false testimony" and "enjoyed a genuine change of heart".

Barrister Adam Wolanski, for Associated Newspapers, argued that there was a strong presumption in favour of open justice.

He said departures from the open justice principle could only be justified in "exceptional circumstances" and when "strictly necessary".

Mr Wolanski accepted that disclosures made during divorce proceedings were made "under compulsion" and were subject to an "implied undertaking of confidentiality".

But he said that principle did not apply when a litigant had "supplied false information during proceedings".

Mr Wolanski said redactions sought by Mr Bannatyne constituted a "significant departure from the open justice principle" and would prevent "proper reporting" of future hearings of the Armstrong case.

He said Mr Bannatyne's "application for redaction" was "no more than an attempt to avoid embarrassment" - and a bid for "special treatment" on an "unprincipled" basis.

"In my judgment, there is a public interest in making it clear that if someone does provide false evidence to a court, with a view to misleading the court for their own financial gain, or for the financial gain of an associate, then it will do them no good to admit that fact without fear of any repercussions," said Judge Hodge in his ruling.

"In my judgment, the public interest lies in exposing attempts to mislead the court, even if the person making such attempts then repents of what he has done and corrects the situation."

He added: "There can be no public interest in inhibiting full, frank and honest disclosure to the court; but there is a public interest in encouraging full, frank and honest disclosure, and disclosure which is not full, frank and honest should be publicised."

A lawyer who specialises in family court litigation said a "message" was being sent to couples embroiled in divorce money fights.

"There is a clear message emerging from the family courts: If you are not completely open and honest, there is a price to pay," said Andrew Newbury, head of family law at law firm Slater and Gordon.

"The decision also reflects the increasing desire for openness and transparency in family proceedings.

"The fact that the courts are more willing to allow the press to attend and report on family proceedings means that many more celebrity couples are keen to resolve their disputes in private and out of court."

Mr Bannatyne outlines his background on the website www.bannatyne.co.uk.

He says he is 66 and was raised in "relatively modest circumstances" in Clydebank, West Dunbartonshire.

"My business interests include health clubs, hotels, media, tv, stage schools, property and transport," he explains.

"I am most famous for my appearances as a business angel on the BBC programme Dragons' Den."

Mr Bannatyne says he has written seven books, and adds: "My most recent book, 43 Mistakes Businesses Make, explains how to avoid those costly mistakes that can waste time, cause embarrassment or even endanger the future of a business."

:: Judge Hodge did not name Mr Bannatyne's former wife in his ruling. He said he wanted to "preserve such anonymity as may attach to her".

Press Association

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