Millionaire Barclays open battle for 'UDI'

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The Independent Online
David and Frederick Barclay, the reclusive multi-millionaire owners of the Ritz Hotel in London and the Scotsman and European newspapers, yesterday formally applied for effective independence for Brecqhou, the tiny island they own in the Channel Islands.

Also yesterday, a court in St Malo, France, began hearing a complaint by the Barclay brothers that they were falsely accused of corruption in a BBC interview, broadcast in Guernsey last October and heard on the French mainland.

In a move disclosed in the Independent, the Barclays are effectively declaring UDI for Brecqhou, where they are currently building a mock-Gothic clifftop fortress home. Their application may ultimately have to be resolved by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

If successful, the brothers, who eschew all personal publicity, will avoid paying Sark's minimal taxes and will have a tighter control over who can, and cannot, visit their domain. They have been complaining to Michael Beaumont, the Seigneur, or governor, of Sark, about the island's police force visiting Brecqhou.

The Barclays, who own other hotels and numerous properties around the world, are worth an estimated pounds 600m. They told Guernsey's Royal Court, the island's equivalent of the High Court in England, yesterday, that in their view Brecqhou forms no part of Sark, its larger neighbour, which traditionally has ruled over the island. Giving their addresses as Avenue Princess Grace, Monte Carlo, the brothers demanded repayment from the Sark authorities of pounds 179,000 in property tax they were required to pay when they bought Brecqhou in 1993 for a reported pounds 2.3m.

In their declaration, made for them by Lloyd Strappini, one of the Channel Islands' leading lawyers, they declared that "Brecqhou forms not part of the fief of Sark"; that a law of 1611 banning the break-up of Sark did not apply to their island; and "that the Court of the Seneschal of Sark [the island's highest authority] has no jurisdiction over Brecqhou".

Mr Beaumont, who inherited the title from the legendary Dame of Sark, asked for more time to prepare his defence. The court granted a request from his lawyer, David Le Marquand, who said the Seigneur would need "lots of time".

If the St Malo case goes against the BBC, the judgment is likely to be seen as a significant legal precedent and may pave the way for further actions against media, printing or broadcasting in the UK and being read and heard in France.

The Barclay twins are claiming criminal libel damages of pounds 108,000. They complain that in the BBC Radio Guernsey interview with Observer journalist John Sweeney, they were wrongly accused of having engaged in acts that could be qualified as corruption. The BBC has said it will contest the allegations "vigorously".