Jailed peer puts ancestral home up for sale at pounds 15m

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Lord Brocket, who is serving a five-year jail sentence for a pounds 4.5m classic car insurance fraud, is trying to clear his huge debts by putting his family home up for sale for pounds 15m.

Estate agents put Brocket Hall and its 543 acres of parkland near Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, on sale yesterday as its old Etonian owner continued to serve his sentence in Littlehey prison, Cambridgeshire.

Brocket, 43, a former polo-playing friend of the Prince of Wales, was jailed in February for what Judge Daniel Rodwell QC described as a "disgraceful" crime, aimed at reducing his debts of pounds 10m. The sentence was the culmination of a downward spiral for a man who at one time had seemed one of the country's most successful aristocrats, with a 50-bedroom mansion, 15 of the world's most sought-after sports cars and a wife who modelled for Vogue.

His problems began in the 1980s, when in an attempt to meet the crippling cost of running the house, he turned it into a conference centre and golf course. But with the arrival of the recession, firms began to cut back on holding conferences.

At the same time, his marriage to Cuban-born Isa Lorenzo, once the world's fifth highest-paid model, began to fall part. After the birth of their three children she found life at Brocket Hall claustrophobic and became a cocaine addict. Brocket's collection of classic cars, bought with a huge bank loan, began to devalue and by 1991 his car company had a pounds 7m overdraft and he had borrowed pounds 3m to keep his estate ticking over. It was then that he hatched his plan to defraud an insurance company.

He falsely told police that four of the cars had been stolen by a professional gang and claimed the pounds 4.5m insurance money. But the insurance company refused to pay up and a lengthy court battle began. Lady Brocket's drug problem worsened, despite attempts at detoxification at two of Britain's top rehabilitation clinics.

His personal and financial problems came to a head when Lady Brocket was arrested for forging drug prescriptions and told police about the fraud. The couple have since been involved in a bitter custody battle over their children.

Selling Brocket Hall for an estimated pounds 15m for a 125-year leasehold interest was an inevitable move given Brocket's financial problems. Earlier this year, David Sullivan, publisher of the Sunday Sport newspaper, was reported to be interested in buying it.

The 18th century hall was built for Lord Melbourne, whose son, the second earl, became Prime Minister in 1834. The latter's wife, Lady Caroline Lamb, renowned for her passion for the poet Lord Byron, arranged for herself to be served as the surprise dish at her husband's birthday party. She emerged naked from a large tureen.