Walter Mitty life of butler `millionaire'

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The Independent Online
A Belgravia butler who served up lavish banquets of wild boar and pounds 1,500 bottles of Chateau Petrus in his employers' home before stealing their pounds 59,000 Bentley Turbo was jailed for three-and-a-half years yesterday.

Percival Hole, described by Judge David Elfer as having "a streak of Walter Mitty", so loved the high life that when his employers travelled abroad he posed as a millionaire and hired his own butler and cook to impress his pub friends.

The butler was so convincing in his role as host that his friends never suspected the truth. Neither did his employers, the Thistle hotel group chairman Rodney Price and his wife, Loeen, until they returned one day to find him, their car and pounds 3,500 missing.

By the time Hole was arrested the car had been sold and most of the proceeds spent on an orgy of first-class travel, champagne, cocaine, and prostitutes. Hole now wants to atone for his wrong-doing by becoming a monk.

Judge Elfer told the butler he accepted that alcohol abuse was partly the reason for his actions, but added: "You undeniably had a yen for what you considered to be the high life and you were prepared to stoop to dishonesty to achieve it."

The court heard that when Hole was hired by Mr Price in 1995 to work at his pounds 4 million home, the butler hid the fact that he had a criminal past. He received a salary of about pounds 21,500, with all accommodation and expenses paid.

Martyn Bowyer, prosecuting, said Hole, as part of the "enormous responsibility and trust" invested in him, had been given a Coutts bank card to pay his employers' household bills.

The butler became a fixture at the Nags Head pub in London's Belgravia where he established a reputation as a "bon viveur". Hole would take pub regulars to the Prices' Regency house, pretending portraits there were of his ancestors.

"Your employers, decent, honourable and trusting people, left you for many months at a time in charge of their household here in this country," the judge said. "But you wanted more. You wanted the trappings and the appearance of your employers' wealth and you abused their trust. So in January of this year you decided upon a scheme to make that sort of wealth easily available and that involved the sale of their Bentley," he said.

That involved "clear-headed planning". Hole duped Mrs Price, an Australian, into giving him the documents for the car by telling her English law required them to be kept in the vehicle. He re-registered the car in his name and sold it for pounds 56,000, before emptying the safe and disappearing.

Hole had planned to travel to Estonia and invest in a timber company a fellow drinker had told him was a "good bet". But on the way, in Germany, he could not "resist the pampered life that money could buy. There were first-class fares, air and rail, good hotels and bodyguards at pounds 200 a day, prostitutes, drugs and drink, until illness caught up with you."

Having contracted hepatitis, Hole abandoned his business plans and returned to Britain, booking into a Manchester hotel under an assumed name.

The judge said there were two sides to Hole's character, one of which had involved working with a voluntary group helping London's homeless. But the other side indicated a "total lack of remorse until caught."

Hole, who was ordered to return the pounds 3,700 still remaining, bowed briefly to the judge before he was led to the cells.

Owen Davies, defending, said his client had had a genuine change of heart. "He is intending to become a monk and he has had a visit from the abbot of one of the monasteries on the edge of London," he said.