Property tycoon jailed by family court for hiding wealth from separated wife
Owen Bowcott | The Guardian
Scot Young, whose wealth is put at £400m, jailed for ‘flagrant and deliberate contempt’ as maintenance arrears nears £1m
A property tycoon estimated to be worth £400m has been jailed for six months in a sign that family courts are cracking down on those who defy orders to reveal their hidden wealth.
Scot Young, 51, was said by the judge, Mr Justice Moor, to be in “flagrant and deliberate contempt” of the court for failing to disclose his financial assets to his wife, Michelle Young, 48.
The high court decision in London came after years of protracted disputes over maintenance payments for Ms Young. The couple, who have two young children, separated in 2006. Four years ago, a judge ordered Mr Young to pay Ms Young £27,500-a-month maintenance.
Sentencing him to prison, the judge said: “The husband says he is penniless and bankrupt. The wife, on the other hand, contends that he is a very wealthy man worth up to £400m. She says he has hidden his entire resources to avoid his legitimate obligations towards her and the children.”
As he was led away in handcuffs and carrying a Louis Vuitton overnight bag, Mr Young said he was “shocked” and said: “This is a sad day for British justice.” His girlfriend, Noelle Reno, said: “It’s not a great day, is it? I didn’t expect six months.”
But Michelle Young explained: “What other choice do we have when someone is not complying with court orders, who is in contempt of court … who is trying to leave me and my children destitute?”
During the hearing, Mr Young, who represented himself, accused his wife of trying to commit him to prison out of “malice”. He said he had “done everything” in his power and asked for more time to answer financial questions posed to him.
He told the court that he had recently been “detained” in hospital under mental health legislation and had been unable to secure the services of a barrister. He said he had been harassed by “eight private detectives” instructed by his wife and “made unwell”. He suggested that he was under greater surveillance than a terrorist.
Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Ms Young, had told the court that Mr Young had been worth £400m in 2006 but had given “absolutely no explanation” about where that money had gone.
He said Mr Young pleaded poverty but seemed to be living a lifestyle “consistent with considerable wealth”. Fitzgerald added: “He is going from party to party with champagne glass in his hand and his current girlfriend, some supermodel or other, on his arm.”
The judge ruled in favour of Ms Young, adding that neither a fine nor a suspended sentence would be a sufficient penalty. The husband had paid nothing and his maintenance arrears had now risen to “close to £1m”.
Mr Justice Moor said the pair’s competing claims would still have to be argued at a trial – due to take place later this year.
Lawyers specialising in family cases said the judge’s ruling signalled that the courts viewed his refusal to co-operate as a serious offence.
Kirstie Law, a partner at law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore, said: “A clear and welcome message has been sent that there is a duty to provide disclosure, including answering questions and providing documents such as tax returns.
“The court has confirmed it is not acceptable for people to delay providing information that is readily available to them.”
Marilyn Stowe, senior partner at Stowe Family Law, added: “Over the past two years, there has been a concerted move among judges to ensure that family law is in line with civil law. [The] decision to jail Scot Young is more than this: the courts are signalling that if you defy their decisions, you risk going to prison – even in a divorce case.”