Sis­ter of man in di­vorce fight jailed for con­tempt

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Brian Farmer Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

A 65-YEAR-OLD busi­ness­woman has been given a three-month jail term af­ter a judge analysing the lat­est stage of a di­vorce court fight be­tween her wealthy brother and for­mer sis­ter-in-law ruled that she was in con­tempt.

Judge Stephen Wild­blood con­cluded that Susan Byrne was in­volved in brother John Hart’s “fi­nan­cial em­pire” and had failed to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion in breach of or­ders.

He said she would spend six weeks in prison be­fore re­lease on li­cence, but could “purge” her con­tempt by com­ply­ing with or­ders.

The judge has an­nounced his de­ci­sion in a rul­ing af­ter analysing ev­i­dence at a hear­ing in the Fam­ily Di­vi­sion of the High Court in Bris­tol.

Ear­lier this year, the judge had given Mr Hart, a prop­erty de­vel­oper in his 80s, a 14-month prison sen­tence af­ter con­clud­ing that he had also failed to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion and was in con­tempt. He said Mr Hart would spend seven months in jail.

Mr Hart’s ex-wife Karen, a for­mer air host­ess who is in her 60s, had asked for Mr Hart and Mrs Byrne to be jailed.

The Harts had lived near Sut­ton Cold­field in the West Mid­lands and had been mar­ried for about 20 years.

Ms Hart had launched con­tempt pro­ceed­ings af­ter fight­ing with Mr Hart over money fol­low­ing the break­down of their mar­riage.

Judge Wild­blood had de­cided that she should get a £3.5 mil­lion share of a mar­i­tal as­set kitty worth around £9.4 mil­lion.

He sub­se­quently con­cluded that Mr Hart had failed to com­ply with an un­der­tak­ing, and or­ders, made fol­low­ing the money fight.

Mr Hart had been told to trans­fer his shares in a prop­erty com­pany to Ms Hart.

He had un­der­taken, and been or­dered, to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion which would help Ms Hart man­age the com­pany.

Judge Wild­blood said Mr Hart had “acted in con­temp­tu­ous dis­re­gard” of the un­der­tak­ing and or­ders.

He said Mrs Byrne, who owned shares in a com­pany called Hale­sowen Es­tates, had sim­i­larly failed to com­ply with or­ders to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion.

The judge said her con­tempt had “prin­ci­pally” arisen out of a “sense of mis­placed loy­alty” to her brother.

“In my opin­ion, this is a ridicu­lous sit­u­a­tion which is brought about by a stead­fast re­fusal to obey court or­ders,” said Judge Wild­blood in his rul­ing on Mrs Byrne’s case.

“No judge, my­self in­cluded, would ever wish to be in the po­si­tion of hav­ing to sen­tence an oth­er­wise highly re­spectable and re­spected 65-year-old woman, a com­mit­ted fam­ily mem­ber, for con­tempt aris­ing out of the di­vorce pro­ceed­ings be­tween her brother and her for­mer sis­ter-in-law.

“How­ever, that is the po­si­tion in which I now find my­self and there is no avoid­ing it.”

Ms Hart had run up lawyers’ bills of more than £100,000 bring­ing con­tempt pro­ceed­ings.

Judge Wild­blood said Mr Hart and Mrs Byrne should pick up those bills.

> John Hart was jailed for 14 months

> Karen Hart won her court bat­tle

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