A woman who was fired by one of Britain's richest men accepted nearly £160,000 in compensation for sexual discrimination yesterday.
Hans Rausing, who has a reported personal fortune of £4.5bn, dismissed Lanny Bezant, 58, at the same time as he sacked her husband, Richard, who was one of his most trusted employees. Mrs Bezant was employed as the marketing director of Wadhurst Park Estates. Her husband was the estate's managing director for 22 years.
The couple failed last year to win claims of unfair dismissal at an employment tribunal against Mr Rausing because it was alleged that Mr Bezant had fiddled his expenses and filled in incorrect tax returns.
Yesterday the tribunal, in Ashford, Kent, decided that Mrs Bezant should receive compensation after the company conceded that she had been discriminated against because she was Mr Bezant's wife. Mrs Bezant, a doctor of philosophy, and her husband, who are also appealing against the decision to reject their claims of unfair dismissal, said they had won a moral victory.
The couple also accused Mr Rausing's lawyers of attempting to wriggle out of the legal battle after Wadhurst Park Estates – which is now called Tertiary Enterprises – was placed into liquidation. Mr Rausing, who was ranked second in the Sunday Times Rich List, amassed his fortune by selling his stake in the food packaging company Tetra Laval, and was credited with designing the original supermarket milk carton under the name Tetra Pak.
Mrs Bezant told the employment tribunal yesterday that in August she received a letter from the speciality food company's liquidator stating that "for commercial reasons" it was conceding liability in her sexual discrimination claim.
Speaking outside the tribunal, Mrs Bezant said: "I feel it is just and right that I should receive this compensation. I have suffered great distress because of the damage done to my name and reputation as a result of my dismissal."
Mr and Mrs Bezant were sacked on the spot after having been called to Mr Rausing's sprawling estate in Wadhurst, East Sussex, in September 2000. Richard Bezant was considered to be Mr Rausing's right-hand man and ran estates for him in Britain and Portugal.
The couple, from Tenterden, Kent, still live on the farm from where they worked for Mr Rausing. They claim that they cannot be evicted because of an Act of Parliament that protects farm tenants.