Sister of man in divorce fight jailed for contempt
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