Accountants Grant Thornton today fended off a £45m claim from Barclays Bank over advice it gave to the collapsed Von Essen Hotels group.
One of the country's leading judges struck out Barclays' claim against Grant Thornton, ruling that the accountants could successfully rely on a disclaimer in audit reports it provided to Von Essen that prevents third parties from suing over reliance upon them.
Mr Justice Cooke said that Barclays have "no realistic prospect of success in the action in the face of the disclaimer", and ruled that the claim could be dismissed without the need for a full trial.
He said that Barclays had sought to recover sums "in the order of £45m", but interest could have pushed the total claim far higher.
He refused the bank permission to appeal, and ordered it to pay Grant Thornton's legal costs, to be assessed later if not agreed. He ordered Barclays to pay £70,000 up front, with Grant Thornton claiming around £130,000 in total. Barclays' own legal costs add £70,000 to the total bill faced by the bank.
Barclays joined Lloyds bank in loaning £250m to Von Essen in 2006 and claimed that, in doing so, it relied on audit reports provided by Grant Thornton to the hotel group.
It alleged that the accountants owed a "duty of care" to it in relation to the contents of those reports and that it was negligent producing them.
But the judge ruled that the two-page reports contained a disclaimer of responsibility to third parties that was "clear on its face" and would have been read and understood by anyone at Barclays.
He said: "Grant Thornton made it clear that it was not prepared to assume responsibility to Barclays in respect of these reports. There was nothing unreasonable in that stance, as between two sophisticated commercial parties, where the approach of auditors limiting their responsibilities is well known. Barclays should have anticipated the existence of such a clause and, in my view, must have expected some such clause to be present."