Couple sue millionaire peer over gazumping

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The Independent Online
THE millionaire publisher, patron of the arts and new Labour peer Paul Hamlyn is being sued over a case of alleged gazumping.

Lord Hamlyn has received a High Court writ for the sale of a Grade II listed building he owns in Hammersmith, west London. Unfortunately for Lord Hamlyn, the plaintiffs are Jonathan Ferris and Deborah Bangay, a married couple of barristers from Bedford Row Chambers. They are suing Lord Hamlyn and other trustees of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for damages of up to pounds 50,000.

Mr and Mrs Ferris, who served the writ on Wednesday, allege that at the end of April, Lord Hamlyn accepted their offer for Sussex House, a detached house with five bedrooms. They claim that his agents, Savills, promised that the publisher would be uncontactable in Majorca for a fortnight and would not accept any other offers as long as contracts were exchanged within two weeks.

However, the couple were devastated when Savills telephoned a week later to say that another offer, nearly pounds 200,000 higher, had been made through another branch, and had somehow reached Lord Hamlyn in spite of the earlier promise.

Mr Ferris told The Independent: "My wife is a case-hardened barrister but she was in tears when she heard. I was furious. We had been led to believe that we were immune to other offers. I am not saying that Lord Hamlyn has acted dishonourably but what has been done in his name is less than honourable.

"This has cost us both financially and emotionally. We had set our hearts on it and planned to spend pounds 100,000 to help restore what is an important listed building."

Mr Ferris feels so strongly that he has written to Hilary Armstrong, minister for local government and housing, calling for a change in the law which would reduce the gap between an offer being accepted and contracts being exchanged from a few weeks to a few days.

Mr Ferris said: "We need a new law. It would be a relatively cheap and easy change to make but it would make an enormous difference to a lot of people."

The couple, who have four-year-old twin sons, live in Docklands, in east London. They had looked forward to moving somewhere with a garden where their sons could play.

They claim Savills told them that the owner would accept the highest offer before he went away on holiday. Mr Ferris claims that their offer of pounds 765,000 was accepted the day after it was made as being the highest and a letter of acceptance was sent to them.

Mr and Mrs Ferris say that they appointed solicitors to carry out required searches, paid for a valuation and arranged a mortgage. They say they have incurred other financial losses through having to raise a great deal of money quickly, including cashing in pounds 35,000 in Peps,and loss of interest on pounds 73,000 removed from a building society account. They also paid an architect to negotiate with English Heritage, because the building is listed, as well as giving written notice to the children's school that they would be moving.

The Hamlyn Foundation and Savills could not be contacted last night.