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Marco Pierre White wins right to take Withers to trial over retention of private documents

3 November 2009

Marco Pierre White has won a battle at the Court of Appeal with Withers, his estranged wife’s solicitors, over claims that the firm unlawfully retained private documents intercepted by his wife.

The court heard how the TV chef admitted telling Marcus Dearle, a partner at Withers and the second respondent, in a telephone conversation: “I hope you and your family rot in hell because that is where you’ve sent mine.”

Delivering the leading judgment in White v Withers and Dearle [2009] EWCA Civ 1122, Lord Justice Ward said: “The interception and retention of Letty’s letter, more than the P&O contract, leaves me with such an uncomfortable feeling that for my part I would be reluctant to shut out the claimant and deny him his day in court.”

The letter from Letty, Marco Pierre White’s daughter from his first marriage, was one of 42 documents removed by his second wife Matilde, many of them originals, following the collapse of his second marriage in 2007.

Ward LJ described the letter as a “touching, almost heartbreaking, letter to her father expressing her love for him and her wish to see much more of him. It was a letter which desperately called for a speedy reply.”

White claimed that the removal by Matilde of the contract from P&O meant that he had to go to the firm’s offices in Southampton to sign a duplicate version.

Ward LJ agreed with the decision of the judge at first instance, Mr Justice Eady, that White’s claims for misuse of confidential or private information should be struck out, but not the claims for the torts of trespass to goods and conversion.

Lord Justice Sedley agreed.

Lord Justice Wilson, who appeared as an advocate in Hildebrand v Hildebrand [1992] 1 FLR 244, the leading case on removal of documents belonging to one spouse by another to use as evidence, also agreed.

However, he added: “This is a claimant who admits that, in a telephone conversation as early as December 2006, he told the second defendant ‘I hope you and your family rot in hell because that is where you’ve sent mine’.”

Wilson LJ said the defendants’ retention of 24 original documents ran counter to the Hildebrand ‘rules’ and may prove to have constituted the tort of trespass and/or conversion.

Richard Green, partner at Hill Dickinson, acted for Marco Pierre White. He said that both he and his client were delighted by the Court of Appeal ruling.

“Can it be right for a man to be deprived of original documents that belong to him, without his knowledge, for a period of up to 18 months? It cannot be right.

“The other side insinuated that this is all to do with the rules in Hildebrand, but the rules could have never offered them protection because they took original documents.”

Green said White’s claims relating to removal of the documents would have no impact on the divorce proceedings between his client and Matilde.

Green added that his client was “looking forward” to the hearing of his claim in the High Court next year.

A spokesman for Withers said: “We have always maintained that any allegations made by Marco Pierre White against Marcus Dearle and Withers LLP are completely unfounded.”

He went on: “It will be helpful to family law practitioners and their clients to have the whole issue of disclosure of documents in divorce proceedings considered more fully. The Hildebrand rules are not comprehensive and have not been reviewed by the courts for over 15 years.”

Categorised in:

Divorce Children Procedures Professional negligence