A schism at the heart of the billionaire Barclay family – owners of the Ritz London hotel – has been revealed in a hearing at the High Court in London.
Details of secret recordings of conversations between Sir Frederick Barclay,85, and his daughter Amanda were made public in yesterday's hearing. It is claimed that the three sons of Sir Frederick's twin brother, Sir David – Alistair, Aidan and Howard – and Aidan's son Andrew, were party to the recordings, which took place over several months.
Sir Frederick and Amanda Barclay are bringing a legal action alleging misuse of private information, breach of confidence and breach of data protection laws against their four relatives. They are also suing Philip Peters, a director of the family's holding company, Ellerman Investments.
High Court judge Mr Justice Warby was told that the "elaborate system of covert recording" only came to light last month when Alistair was filmed "handling the bug" placed in the conservatory, where Sir Frederick would go to smoke a cigar. Desmond Browne QC, representing Sir Frederick and Amanda Barclay, said: "We all remember Tolstoy saying ‘each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way'.
"Here, the children of Sir Frederick and Sir David have been at odds … concerning the family trusts, and cousin, sadly, has been pitched against cousin.
"It is alleged that the defendants have surreptitiously recorded the conversations of Sir Frederick and his daughter Amanda, both between themselves and with others, over a period of months."
Browne said it was not clear how long the recordings were made for, but they "could go back as far as September last year". He argued there was a strong case that there had been "illegal activity over a long period of time", which he said had produced recordings of "tremendous value" to the defendants.
Browne asked the court to make an interim non-disclosure order, preventing the defendants from disclosing the recordings. Heather Rogers QC, representing all five defendants, submitted that there was "a lot of information that would have been in the possession of my clients … which they have got completely free of the recordings".
She added that her clients had "ample opportunity" to "spread it about before an injunction" was granted, but there was "no evidence of dissemination".
Ms Rogers argued that there was therefore no need to make an interim non-disclosure order.
Giving a short ruling dismissing the application for a non-disclosure order, Mr Justice Warby said the claim "stems from the falling-out between elements of the families of Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay".
He said that "substantial parts of the business enterprises" the twins had built up "are now owned by trusts, beneficiaries of which include" Amanda, Alistair, Aidan and Howard Barclay.
He added that the information Sir Frederick and Amanda Barclay were seeking to protect included "discussions about potential acquisitions and disposals of business assets", and "personal financial matters including matters relating to the family trusts".
It is possible that discussions about potential acquisitions could be related to a possible sale of the five-red-AA-star, 136-bedroom hotel. Saudi private investment group Sidra Capital has recently been reported to be the leading contender to buy the trophy asset.
It is believed that the Barclay family, who also owns the Beaumont hotel and the Telegraph newspaper group, was seeking £800m for the hotel, a price tag which would make it the most expensive UK hotel in history.