Relatives of Frederick Barclay have agreed to pay the billionaire and his daughter damages for breaching their privacy and misusing private information after secretly bugging their conversations in London’s Ritz Hotel.
But in a defence document filed at London’s High Court the five defendants insisted the eavesdropping on Sir Frederick and his daughter Amanda was a reasonable response to their “serious concerns” over potential damage they might do to family business interests. They deny causing their relatives any economic loss.
The admission is an important turning point in a case that has riven the families of the Barclay twins — Sir Frederick and Sir David — and cast a shadow over the business empire they built, which at its height spanned retail, shipping, the Ritz Hotel and the Telegraph newspapers.
Sir Frederick and his daughter Amanda are suing a group of Sir David’s direct relatives and one aide over allegations of breach of confidence, misuse of private information and breach of data protection rights.
“We do not dispute that the recordings were made and discussed between us,” the defendants, who include Sir David’s sons Alistair, Aidan and Howard Barclay, said in a statement.
“The actions we took were the result of serious concerns about aspects of Sir Frederick’s conduct and were taken in the belief that they were necessary and reasonable to protect the Barclay group’s business interests from potential damage,” the defendants said, adding that it was never intended for the recordings to be made public.
The family dispute dates back to footage from January, which showed Alistair Barclay planting a listening device disguised as a plug adaptor in a room of the Ritz frequently used by his uncle Sir Frederick.
The defence statement acknowledges that Alistair instigated the bugging and was most heavily involved “in relevant matters”. Heather Rogers QC, representing the five defendants, acknowledged in the defence document that Alistair destroyed a laptop holding some recordings. The computer and the recording device used were disposed of by “throwing them into a skip”.
Devices in the room recorded about 1,000 private conversations, according to the claimants, which they said provided valuable information that was used in disputes.
Sir Frederick’s lawyers have argued that “commercial espionage on a vast scale” benefited his relatives and allowed them to sell the Ritz at what they allege was half its market price.
The defendants contest that allegation and denied Sir Fredrick’s claim that it had damaged his economic interests.
“We fail to see how Sir Frederick or Amanda can have suffered any economic loss as a result of the recordings,” they said. “They have produced no details to support their claims in those respects, and we are applying to court for those claims to be struck out.”
The defendants acknowledged that Sir Frederick and his daughter were entitled to general damages for breach of confidence, misuse of private information and data protection rights. They promised to discuss compensation with the claimants, or if that failed, to pay a sum determined by the court. But they deny damages are necessary for the remaining claims, including alleged economic losses.
Sir Frederick declined to comment on Monday’s court developments and whether he would accept damages. In a recent statement he said he “would have liked to have resolved this in the family. Sadly, the appalling tactic of spying on fellow family members have complicated matters considerably”.
Additional reporting by Jane Croft
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