Barclay twins `seek UDI for Brecqhou'

Channel Islands dispute: Reclusive millionaires in court row over Sark taxes seen as first move towards breakaway challenge
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The Independent Online

The multi-millionaire Barclay twins, reclusive owners of the Ritz hotel in London and the Scotsman and European newspapers, are seeking to put their privacy on a firmer legal footing by in effect declaring independence for Brecqhou, the small island in the Channel Islands they bought in 1993.

In a court action, due to be heard in Guernsey next week, the brothers, David and Frederick, will apply to reclaim tax paid to Sark, which, historically, has ruled over the neighbouring rocky islet.

The Sark authorities maintain the affect of the brothers' civil action is to question the link between the two islands and is effectively a unilateral declaration of independence. If successful they should avoid paying Sark's minimal taxes and ensure any unwanted visitors, even officials, are kept to a bare minimum.

Michael Beaumont, the Seigneur of Sark, said yesterday that the brothers had been "complaining bitterly" about granting access to police from Sark. Ironically, he made his comment on the day police visited Brecqhou, which is separated from Sark by a narrow passage, to inquire into the accidental death of one of the 400 workmen building a mock Gothic fortress home on top of the island's forbidding cliffs.

The brothers legal move could lead all the way to The Queen, in the shape of the judicial committee of the Privy Council. Mr Beaumont said Sark is owned by the Crown. "They are challenging the constitution," he said. "They are saying Brecqhou is not part and parcel of Sark. But Brecqhou has got to come under the writ of law from somewhere. Advocates have got to sort it out - it is beyond me."

The twins receive no services from Sark - their island has its own water and electricity supply - and they visit it by helicopter. Under Sark law, when they bought the granite outcrop for a reported pounds 2.3m, they had to pay "trezieme" property tax of one-thirteenth of the price (pounds 177,000). They are now demanding its repayment. "They would like it back, among other things," said Mr Beaumont.

As residents of Sark, the 61-year-old Barclays, who are ranked in the top 20 of Britain's wealthy with an estimated fortune of pounds 600m, are liable to an upper tax limit of pounds 2,500 per annum. Sark has no social security system so the 500 residents, many of whom are millionaires, are assessed on their wealth and asked to make a contribution up to pounds 2,500.

By effectively declaring UDI, the twins - owners of other hotels around the world including the Howard in London and Meribeau in Monte Carlo, and numerous other businesses - will avoid the need to have their wealth publicly scrutinised and will be able to prevent any unwanted intrusions. The rarely-photographed identical twins - they usually appear with their hallmark parted, slicked-back hair and dark suits - guard their privacy ferociously. They are currently embroiled in a legal action with the Observer over an article based on an uninvited visit to Brecqhou by a reporter.

They claim details in the article could make members of their family targets for kidnap.In the action, being brought in a Paris court, they also claim an accompanying drawing of them infringed their "absolute right to their own image".

In London, a Home Office spokesman confirmed the constitutional challenge. "We are aware an action has been brought in relation to the reclaiming of trezieme tax and the seeking of a declaration of the constitutional position of Brecqhou in relation to Sark. We would not wish to comment on proceedings which ultimately fall to be decided by the judicial committee of the Privy Council."

Sources close to the Barclays said the brothers were seeking to reclaim tax. They denied Mr Beaumont's interpretation, claiming the action on its own was not a declaration of independence. The Barclays refused to comment last night.