The 76-year old owner of an Isle of Wight hotel was today ordered to pay more than £280,000 for refurbishment works she claimed she never asked for.
In addition, a High Court judge, sitting in London, ordered Elizabeth Lowe, owner of the Esplanade hotel at Sandown, to pay almost £33,000 in interest, making the total bill £313,999.
Lowe must also pay £90,000 up front towards Brynwell's legal costs bill, with the total amount for its lawyers bills likely to be around £105,000 once they have been assessed. Her own legal fees could be similar, meaning the overall cost of losing the case could top £500,000.
She had already paid the company £152,080 in response to invoices totalling £488,246, and the judge said that the shortfall between amounts invoiced and paid produced tensions between the parties which, from Mr O'Neil's viewpoint, had "caused the breakdown in the relationship".
In his decision, Deputy Judge Roger ter Haar QC said: "What is now known as the Esplanade hotel has seen better days. The claimant was engaged by the defendant to carry out very necessary works of repair and refurbishment. Sadly, there are now substantial disputes as to what works were instructed and what is a reasonable sum for the work done."
He said that Mrs Lowe, who was born in Malaysia, bought the premises - a combination of two hotels previously known as the Seagrove and the Savoy - in 2012. She is the carer for her disabled partner and the judge said he got the firm impression that the physical and emotional pressure of that "has borne heavily upon her".
He added that she has a clear feeling of being let down by Mr O'Neil, who she had known for around 12 years and had been involved with on several commercial development and refurbishment projects.
Though he said she was a highly intelligent woman with business experience, including property development and ownership of a Portsmouth convenience store, he said with regret that he did not find her evidence reliable where it conflicted with other witnesses.
He found that there was an initial agreement for Brynwell to carry out initial works at a cost of £50,860 plus VAT, and Mrs Lowe had paid £49,980 in cash by 26 June 2012, but said that Mrs Lowe claimed that, thereafter, Brynwell had "started on a major campaign of work which she did not want done".
He said: "She was asked in cross examination why she didn't tell the workmen to stop. Her answer was that it was not easy to tell them to stop. She said that she told Mr O'Neil 'so many times'. She said that 'I felt physically unable to ask them to stop'. She denied that she ordered extra work."
However, the judge ruled: "I do not accept this evidence from Mrs Lowe. There is a direct and fundamental clash between her evidence and that of the claimant's witnesses."