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Barclay family high court case to go ahead despite Sir David's death

The Guardian - Wed Jan 13 16:49

The bitter family feud over the billionaire Barclay brothers’ business empire remains headed for the high court in April, even as the once tight-knit family comes to grips with the death of Sir David, who together with his twin brother, Sir Frederick, amassed a £7bn fortune building the family firm.

Last February Frederick, 86, and his daughter Amanda, 42, launched a legal action against David’s sons, Aidan, Howard and Alistair, and Aidan’s son Andrew after they were accused of secretly recording 1,000 conversations that Frederick held in the conservatory of the family-owned Ritz hotel in London.

Frederick claims he held discussions about a potential sale of the hotel for as much as £1.3bn before it was sold by David’s side of the family last March for a reported £700m-£750m. Court documents claim the recordings made in the hotel led to its sale for “half the market price”. David’s side have accused Frederick’s side of fabricating potential blockbuster counter-offers, and they threatened to sue him for damaging the family’s reputation and business interests.

The Barclay brothers’ empire stretches from the parent company of the Telegraph and Spectator to the online retailer Very – previously known as Shop Direct, and before that Littlewoods – and the delivery firm Yodel. The move to sell the Ritz last year came as the family looked to shore up the faltering finances of its business portfolio, and followed several years of internal disagreement over the future of the empire.

The scale of the divisions began to emerge the previous October when the Telegraph was put up for sale as part of a review of the portfolio, with sources suggesting David’s side of the family were not in agreement with the plans.

The legal action as a result of the bugging of the Ritz – which included CCTV footage, released to the media, allegedly showing Alistair handling the listening device inside the Ritz – thrust the business and family affairs of the once famously private family into the spotlight.

The two sides were last in court in May, and further proceedings have been delayed by case congestion caused by the pandemic, and by the presiding judge Justice Warby being replaced after he was appointed to the court of appeal last July.

The next public high court hearing still remains scheduled for April, suggesting no agreement has yet been reached that would allow the matter to be resolved privately.

David and Frederick have not been beneficiaries of the family trust for many years and the battle for control has been among their offspring.

The day-to-day running of the empire has long been handled by David’s sons, Aidan and Howard, but in late 2019 moves were made to strengthen his side’s grip on the empire. The pair were appointed as “persons with significant control” of Ellerman Holdings, the holding company for the Barclays’ UK assets. Each was given “more than 25% but not more than 50% of the share ownership and voting rights”.

Last January they were appointed as directors at the Ritz, on the same day as Frederick’s daughter Amanda resigned after only six months as a director. Two months later the Ritz was sold. Amanda has been left with a 25% share of the family trust and no power to block or influence any major decisions.

“I don’t know how or if Sir David’s passing will change anything,” said one source. “Practically speaking he wasn’t part of the court case now at the heart of this dispute.”

On Wednesday, Frederick made a public statement about the passing of his twin brother. “It was a great journey in everything that we did, the good, the bad, the ugly,” he said. “We experienced it from being bombed out of our beds in Coventry to the deals that we made and the ones that got away. We were twins from the beginning until the end. He was the right hand to my left and I was his left hand to his right. We’ll meet again.”