Hunter wins Gadget Shop case against star UBS banker

Wood to launch appeal after devastating judgment brands his evidence as 'unreliable'
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The Independent Online

The UBS banker branded "unreliable" and motivated only by "animus" yesterday in bringing a £100m lawsuit against one of Scotland's richest men is planning to appeal after losing the high-profile case.

Jon Wood, a managing director of the Swiss bank, and Peter Wilkinson, the Freeserve designer, were accused of having an "entirely inappropriate and inadmissible attitude" towards attempting to sue fellow shareholders in the failed The Gadget Shop.

In an unequivocal verdict, Mr Justice Warren threw out the action, which hinged on whether Sir Tom Hunter and Chris Gorman, his sidekick, illegally excluded their co-investors in the gizmo retailer from a business opportunity when they acquired the rival retail chain Birthdays.

Mr Wood's evidence was torn apart in yesterday's judgment at the High Court in London, which brought down the curtain on the year's most colourful corporate case. The head of proprietary trading at UBS was described as an "unreliable witness" not always "honest in everything he says".

Mr Justice Warren said Mr Wood "came across as a very hard and calculating man albeit attempting to present himself in a much softer way. Where his evidence differs from those of other witnesses, I prefer theirs".

Sir Tom's lawyers said they would seek millions in costs on an "indemnity" basis, entitling them to up to 90 per cent of their outlay in fighting the 15-month legal case rather than the usual half. This was because the judge ruled the case unnecessary since Sir Tom's side had offered to settle with Mr Wilkinson, who brought the petition, for "everything he could have hoped to achieve if he had been successful".

Mr Wilkinson had demanded compensation commensurate with the value of a combined The Gadget Shop and Birthdays, notwithstanding the former went bust and the greetings card chain cost its investors £10m.

"It's a damning verdict, it's what I was wishing," Sir Tom said. The multimillionaire is reviewing his relationship with UBS, which was not implicated in the lawsuit but was dragged into the spotlight by the judgment about one of its most senior employees. UBS declined to comment.

Lawyers for Mr Wilkinson and Mr Wood said the petition had been brought because of an "important point of principle. We shall be considering the impact of the decision for minority shareholders generally and in the context of an appeal".

The case exposed the bitter battles between the former investors and their lavish lifestyles, Arguments were fought in boardrooms - where Mr Gorman was branded "Billy Big Bollocks" because of his high media profile, and Jonathan Elvidge, The Gadget Shop founder, a "gay Dutchman" on account of his bright attire - and bathrooms of the world's top nightspots. The "offensive" language in court turned the air bluest when the judge admitted he had "no problem with the word 'cunt' in court".

The heated nature of most of the exchanges between the parties prompted Mr Justice Warren to conclude it was Mr Wood's "attitude and animus that is driving the campaign of attrition which is this litigation".

Mr Wilkinson and Mr Wood had claimed they suffered "unfair prejudice" because Sir Tom had used his private-equity vehicle, West Coast Capital, to acquire Birthdays. This was dismissed on the grounds that the duo's rejection of Sir Tom's offer to settle "eliminated whatever prejudice there might have been".

Mr Wood's side feels the offer was never made concrete nor was it agreed how much it was worth. The minority investors were seeking 40 per cent of the potential value of the combined business, which they said they were told was £200m-£300m. The judge rejected Mr Wood's evidence on this point.

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