The billionaire Barclay brothers tightened their grip over a glittering £1bn trio of London's top hotels yesterday after winning a crucial court victory over a rival shareholder.
The owners of the Telegraph newspaper group, who already own the Ritz, have fought a three-month tug-of-war with Belfast-born developer with Paddy McKillen which looks likely to decide the ownership of the five-star Berkeley, Connaught and Claridge's hotels.
The bitter battle for control of Maybourne, the company that owns the three hotels, has racked up an estimated £15m in legal fees. The eagerly awaited judgment could see Sir David and Sir Frederick, who failed to appear in court during the 30-day trial, secure full control of the group by the end of this year.
The complex history of the dispute stretches back to 2004. Mr McKillen was one of five shareholders in Coroin, a company that bought the Savoy Hotel Group for €1.1bn (£863m), backed by €800m in debt. Coroin, fronted by former Irish property poster boy Derek Quinlain, sold the Savoy to Arabia's Prince al-Waleed and then renamed the Berkeley, Claridge's and the Connaught under the Maybourne banner.
The original Coroin shareholders fell to three during the next six years, leaving Mr McKillen with 36.2 per cent, Mr Quinlain with 35.4 per cent and Misland – a Cyprus-based trust .
But in January last year, the Barclays gained a foothold in Maybourne by buying Misland for £70m. Meanwhile, several of Mr Quinlain's property investments defaulted in the crash and his debts were taken into Ireland's state-owned "bad bank", Nama. The Barclays did a deal with Nama to buy Mr Quinlain's debts, giving them effective control of his stake and majority control of Maybourne. The brothers also own the €660m debts of Coroin.
Mr McKillen launched the legal action claiming that as an original shareholder in Coroin, he had first refusal over the shares of Misland and Mr Quinlain. But the judge dismissed Mr McKillen's claim.
A spokesman for Mr McKillen said he was disappointed with the judgment and was considering his options about an appeal. "The Barclay brothers' sole intention was to assume 100 per cent control of the hotels by any means necessary. We brought this case to High Court to protect our interest in the finest hotels in London," he added.
Speaking to The Independent, Mr McKillen added: "I may have lost this battle by I will win the war for control of the three hotels."
He claimed he would still be able to increase his total shareholding to a total of 56%.
The brothers' spokesman, Richard Faber, said: "We are delighted that today's judgment has completely vindicated the Barclay interests' position and brought to an end this unnecessary and distracting dispute.
"It should never have been necessary for the Barclay interests to defend these baseless proceedings, which we always believed were an attempt by Mr McKillen to tarnish the Barclay interests' reputation in the misconceived hope that they would then sell out to him."