Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Ex-property tycoons 'playing' the High Court over multi-million pound battle with Ulster Bank

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Former housebuilding tycoons Michael and John Taggart are "playing" the High Court in a calculated attempt to put off their multi-million pound legal battle with the Ulster Bank, a judge was told today.

The brothers were accused of repeatedly switching lawyers as part of efforts to delay and frustrate the action.

Senior counsel for the bank hit out at their alleged conduct as it emerged the pair are now in the process of instructing a fifth different firm of solicitors.

Stephen Shaw QC also questioned why the Taggarts, who say they are too broke to pay for lawyers, have yet to seek legal aid despite being set a two-week deadline.

He claimed every time the case is about to begin they have "resorted to all manner of ruses and stunts in order to buy more time".

The barrister told Mr Justice Burgess: "The bank finds this a very vexing process to be frustrated in this way.

"But we also dare to suggest to the court that this strategy is not only disrespectful to the court, but it's playing the court and designed deliberately to make life as difficult as possible not only for the bank but for the court."

The brothers, once described as the richest businessmen in Ireland, are suing the Ulster Bank for alleged negligence and improper conduct they claim contributed to the fall of their empire.

The Taggart Group was one of Northern Ireland's largest housebuilders, with operations in England and the Republic of Ireland.

But it collapsed during the property crash in 2008, costing creditors hundreds of millions of pounds.

In a counter claim, Ulster Bank has lodged writs for £5million (sterling) and 4.3million euros it claims the brothers owe in personal guarantees.

A three-week hearing of the combined cases due to begin at the High Court last month was put on hold after it emerged that the Taggarts have dismissed their team of lawyers.

They requested an adjournment to allow them to seek legal aid, claiming it was no longer financially possible to keep paying barristers and solicitors.

Michael Taggart told the court how the case had "consumed" their lives for five years and cost in excess of £1 million.

He said if their legal aid request was turned down he and his brother planned to represent themselves as self-litigants.

The Taggarts were given two weeks to make the application, but today in court their new solicitor, Peter Madden, sought more time.

Hitting back at the criticisms levelled at his clients, Mr Madden disputed allegations that they were responsible for delays.

He said: "I find it difficult to know which of these insults to respond to first and in which sequence."

The court heard that at least one change of solicitors was due to illness.

"It wasn't, as far as the Taggarts are concerned, part of a strategy," Mr Madden said.

"The proceedings have been going on from 2009. There have been changes of counsel on both sides."

After being reassured no criticism was being made of the newly appointed lawyer, he was given until October 11 to make the legal aid application.

The case will be reviewed again a week later.

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