In the wake of the collapse of a leading Home Counties hotel group, the man who headed it has been branded a “liar” and a “fraud” by one of the country’s top judges and faces court orders estimated at running to more than £14m.
The scathing attack on Novtej Dhillon, who previously headed the Dhillon Group of five hotels, came in a highly complex High Court judgment running to more than 34,000 words. The written judgement of Mr Justice Nugee – handed down in London on 7 February followed a 11-day hearing in June and July 2016 – focused on unauthorised payments made by the Clydesdale Bank to Stoke Place Hotel Ltd in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, one of the Dhillon hotels which went into administration and was sold to the Cairn Hotel Group in January 2016.
In it he said of Dhillon: “He did not make a good witness. I am satisfied that many of his purported explanations were untrue, and that he lied repeatedly both to the bank at the time and to the court in this action.
“I have come to the conclusion that his evidence was wholly unreliable and that I am unable to place any weight on it at all, save where supported by contemporary documents or other evidence, or where it is inherently probable.”
He added: “I am satisfied on the basis of the evidence I have already set out, and the other evidence before me, that Mr Dhillon has lied again and again and indeed is a man who regards truth as a merely optional extra when doing business.
“I see no reason to think that he has any more regard for it when giving evidence, and there was nothing in his performance in the witness box which persuaded me otherwise. As already said, I have concluded that I cannot place any weight on his evidence at all.”
The multi- million pound claim by the Clydesdale Bank was taken out against Stoke Palace Hotel Ltd, Dhillon, his ex-wife, Sarina, and one of the bank’s managers, Andrew Paul Seavers, who was said to have been involved in the fraud by persuading the bank to advance money to Dhillon.
Describing Dhillon’s business affairs, the judge said he ran his hotel business through a number of companies and that during the period involved in the case there were five hotels. In addition to Stoke Place, they included the Crown Inn, Amersham, Buckinghamshire; Liongate hotel, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey; the 48-bedroom Olde Bell in Hurley-on-Thames, Berkshire and the Paragon hotel in Birmingham. All of the hotels eventually went into administration.
The claims against Dhillon’s ex-wife have been settled, the court was told.
At the end of the case, the judge made orders against Dhillon that he must pay damages for conspiracy in relation to unauthorised facilities granted by the bank and said his provisional view was that these would run to over £12.7m.
Additionally he ordered him to pay sums of £250,000 and £850,000 in respect of personal guarantees to the bank and interest on those running to around £200,000.
Although he was not a defendant in the case, a struck off solicitor – a Mr Bains – was also said to have been involved in what took place.
Dhillon claimed that the solicitor had acted as he did independently, but the judge said: “I will say straightaway that I am satisfied that the only possible conclusion is that Mr Dhillon was a full, complete and knowing participant in this fraud, indeed very probably the architect, alone or with Mr Bains, of it.”
Later he added: “I find therefore that Mr Dhillon participated in a sustained fraud on the bank consisting of numerous deceitful misrepresentations made by Mr Bains.”
He said a critical question in the case was whether Dhillon knew that lending from the bank was unauthorised.
“I will say straightaway that I am satisfied that Mr Dhillon did come to know that the lending was unauthorised,” he said.
Making the orders against Dhillon he said: “The bank has established its case in conspiracy against Mr Dhillon and that he is liable for damages.”
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