The chairman, the heir and a £10m battle to control a family fortune

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The Independent Online

He may have an 8,000-acre estate in Scotland, a permanent suite at Claridges Hotel in London and a fleet of Rolls-Royces (despite not being able to drive), but Sir James Cayzer is not the sort to relinquish £10m easily.

Until two weeks ago, the spending habits of one of Britain's richest men were part of the exclusive and discreet world that he inhabited as the heir to a fortune made in shipping in the 19th century.

Only last week, Sir James was reported to be at a luxurious retreat in St Petersburg with 50 of his closest friends. But yesterday he was back in London for a meeting with many of the 160 members of his extended family to decide the fate of the Cayzer Trust whose mismanagement he feels has cost him £10m.

Sir James believes that his share in the family-owned trust should be worth substantially more and blames the board of the Cayzer Trust, chaired by Peter Buckley ­ who is also a member of the Cayzer family by marriage.

The Cayzer Trust was set up in the 1940s to invest the gains made by the Cayzers through their British and Commonwealth shipping empire. The feud has meant that Sir James' battle against his family has thrust him unwillingly into the public eye. Yesterday it came to a crunch when generations of Cayzers attended an emergency meeting in London to decide whether Mr Buckley should remain in charge of the family's fortunes.

Sir James alleges that Mr Buckley has offered him £30m for his shares in the Cayzer Trust, with Sir James claiming that the shares are worth £40m. Yet he cannot get this price from an interested buyer without the approval of the trust's management, which just happens to be Mr Buckley and his board.

For Sir James, who can afford to commission sculptures of his numerous pets for the garden of the family seat, Kinpurnie Castle, £10m may be a relatively small amount. But Sir James claims that there are wider issues at stake. Indeed, arriving in a 1950s Silver Wraith at the meeting in Tower Hill yesterday, he suggested to the assembled media that not all the Cayzers were as flushed as him.

"Some members of the family are not rich," he averred. "If they want to sell their shares they should get a fair value so that they can buy a house or provide schooling [for their children]."

Admittedly, the main supporters of his quest do not appear to number among the ranks of the financially needy. When Nigel Cayzer, a nephew and backer of Sir James, felt unhappy with the education of his children, he simply set up his own school. Another supporter is Ian Molson, the deputy chairman of the Canadian brewer, who is related to Sir James by marriage.

Nevertheless, Sir James has called for Mr Buckley and his entire board to step down from the board of the Cayzer Trust. He also wants Mr Buckley to renounce his chairmanship of the Cayzer Trust's largest holding Caledonia Investments, a publicly-quoted company with investments in a string of distinguished City institutions and the exclusive Sloane Club in London.

Sir James wants Mr Molson to take up the helm of the Cayzer Trust in the hope that he would change its rules, making it easier for family members to sell their shares and thereby boosting the price that they would receive. These attempts proved unsuccessful.

Mr Buckley defeated the vote of no confidence yesterday and ­ despite being locked in negotiations for more than five hours ­ appears to have no plans to change the way he runs the Cayzer Trust.

Meanwhile, Sir James ­ a close friend of the Queen Mother ­ has vowed to continue the fight. But even without his £10m, perhaps the family will be able to keep the wolf from their door for now, judging by the sun-tanned faces on show yesterday. As one Cayzer cousin explained on leaving the meeting: "I'm off to the Adriatic."

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