Jury has the last laugh in ex-wife's VD slander trial: Will Bennett and Charles Oulton report on the case of a man awarded pounds 69 for having to bear the brunt of a woman's vengeance

A MILLIONAIRE businessman who was slandered by his former wife when she claimed he gave her a sexually transmitted disease was awarded pounds 69 damages yesterday - the price of a bottle of champagne in the Dutch sex clubs he had visited.

The judge hearing the case at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Drake, said the jury's award to David Wraith could properly be called 'derisory'. He said the case should never have come to court and ruled that Mr Wraith and his former wife, Shirley, should pay their own costs out of a bill unofficially estimated at up to pounds 500,000.

Remarking on the 'sharp' sense of humour demonstrated by the jury - the sexual significance of the figure is believed to have played a part in their deliberations - Gilbert Gray QC, counsel for Mrs Wraith, said the award was the price of 'a bottle of bubbly in an Amsterdam brothel'.

The jury's lighthearted approach to the case belied the tone of the 10-day trial which opened up the private lives of the couple in the most humiliating way.

Mr Wraith, 48, a former chairman of Scunthorpe United football club, was cross-examined about an alleged sexual infection, while his ex-wife endured evidence from her son, who sided with his father, telling the court how his mother had beaten him with the cane of a feather duster when he was 13. She had left the courtroom while he was giving evidence, collapsing face down in the corridor outside.

The jury of 10 men and two women took five hours to decide unanimously that Mrs Wraith, 49, had slandered her husband of 22 years. But they decided, again unanimously, that she had not slandered Mr Wraith by accusing him of insider dealing, and dishonesty over the proceeds of the sale of their Majorcan property and her Porsche. She had denied making the allegations. They also found, by a majority of 10 to 2, that she had not made nuisance telephone calls to Mr Wraith's home in Brampton, Lincolnshire.

During the case Mr Wraith had given evidence about how he bought pounds 70 bottles of champagne in Amsterdam night clubs.

After the verdict, Mrs Wraith declared herself happy with the outcome, while her former husband declined to comment.

The campaign of violence and vitriol allegedly waged by Shirley Wraith against her former husband was compared in the court with a similar action in the film Fatal Attraction. According to the evidence presented by Mr Wraith's barrister, there were obvious parallels between Mrs Wraith and the role of a jilted lover played by Glenn Close.

Like the film character who pursues a previously happily married man played by Michael Douglas, Mrs Wraith was portrayed as a deranged and obsessive woman prepared to go to any lengths to persecute her former husband.

Hollywood never totally mirrors real life however: in contrast with the glamorous Ms Close, Mrs Wraith was described by her own barrister as 'an asthmatic, anxious, not particularly attractive girl'.

In spite of a pounds 900,000 divorce settlement that Mr Wraith had hoped would provide a clean break, Mrs Wraith followed him from Kent and settled down 15 miles from his new home in Lincolnshire.

The court also heard that she plagued him with silent telephone calls - he knew it was his ex-wife because he could hear her asthmatic breathing - and attacked him at a hotel, scratching his face.

As well as hearing herself compared with a vengeful screen character, she also had to endure the sight of her son, Jonathan, 20, bearing testimony to her alleged inadequacies as a mother.

Mr Wraith had been forced to counter suggestions that he had contracted a sexual disease which he had then passed on to his then wife.

Even more embarrassing was the questioning about an outbreak of the infection of thrush on his penis, which he said occurred after taking antibiotics. Mr Wraith snapped: 'You expect me to talk about this in a public court.'

The couple were expected to talk about such intimate matters, but only because they failed to agree on an out-of-court settlement which would have spared them the agonies of this public ordeal.

The judge, Mr Justice Drake, clearly wished that they had taken such avoiding action and the jury obviously let their sense of ridicule outweigh any feelings of sympathy they might have felt for the couple. Deciding on a figure which drew attention to a particular sexual practice as well as reflecting the cost of a bottle of champagne in Amsterdam, they clearly decided that this particular drama should be seen as comedy, not tragedy.

(Photographs omitted)

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