Harrods chief facing huge legal bill

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The Independent Online

The Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed was criticised by a senior judge today and was left facing legal costs in excess of £4 million over his failed attempt to sue the police for wrongful arrest.

The Harrods owner Mohamed Al Fayed was criticised by a senior judge today and was left facing legal costs in excess of £4 million over his failed attempt to sue the police for wrongful arrest.

Three appeal judges threw out Mr Fayed's challenge to a High Court ruling which had dismissed his damages action against the Metropolitan Police who arrested him over the Tiny Rowland safe deposit box break-in in 1995.

Lord Justice Auld, giving the judgment of the court today, said Al Fayed had led and directed action at his own Harrods security depository which was "a scandalous breach of trust".

The judge said police had sound reasons for suspecting, arresting and questioning Mr Fayed and four of his former employees.

"The claims by Mr Fayed and the other appellants for damages for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment had no merit in law or on the facts."

The judge added: "This whole litigation has been wholly disproportionate and a gross waste of public and private resources."

Lord Justice Auld ordered Mr Fayed to pay the entire costs of the case in the High Court and at the Court of Appeal which were estimated by lawyers in the case as more than £4 million.

This is on top of the £2 million legal costs - and damages believed to approach £1 million - he was ordered to pay when he was successfully sued in 1998 by Mr Rowland and then his widow over the deposit box break-in.

Mr Fayed - together with John Macnamara, a Harrods director of security, Paul

Handley-Greaves, bodyguard, Colin Dalman, safe depository manager, and John

Allen, security manager - claimed they were wrongfully arrested in March 1998 on

suspicion of theft or criminal damage in connection with the contents of a safe

deposit box which Mr Rowland, then head of Lonrho, kept at the store.

They were subsequently released and in July the same year an investigation by the Metropolitan Police's Organised Crime Group ended without any charges being brought because there was insufficient evidence to bring a criminal prosecution.

The Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police and four named officers denied liability, setting the scene for a long-running court battle in which up to eight barristers and three sets of instructing solicitors were involved at any given time.

After his claim was thrown out by the High Court in August 2002, Mr Fayed claimed the judgment was a "travesty of justice" and immediately announced his intention of appealing.

Today the appeal judges were even more robust in their dismissal of his claims against the police but lawyers for Mr Fayed, who was not in court, applied to take the case to the House of Lords.

They were refused but can still apply directly for the case to be heard.

Lord Justice Auld said Mr Fayed and Mr Rowland, who died in 1998 aged 80, were "well-known and somewhat flamboyant personalities".

"They had a much publicised history of commercial rivalry, in particular over the control of Harrods."

The judge said Mr Rowland had rented a safe deposit box at the Harrods "Citadel of Security" for many years and it was one of the largest at the depository.

Mr Rowland claimed that when he opened his box in June 1997 he found many of the contents, including emeralds and rubies, were missing, together with personal items and correspondence.

The judge said police investigating the break-in were given information that Mr Fayed and the others in various permutations had been involved in three or four unauthorised illegal openings of the box.

Lord Justice Auld said: "Whilst the courts must be vigilant to detect and deal with any abuses of power or arbitrary arrests by the police, in this case, the problem is the other way round."