Belfast Telegraph

Judge dismisses assault charges against Ulster's fried chicken king

By Adrian Rutherford

A case against a millionaire businessman accused of assaulting two sisters after a dispute about unpaid rent has been dismissed.

Michael Herbert – one of Northern Ireland's richest men – walked free from court after a judge ruled the case had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

The 55-year-old had been accused of assaulting Marie Marin and her sister Colette Burns after arriving at the home they rented from him seeking outstanding rent.

But a judge raised concerns about discrepancies in the women's evidence, particularly "colourful" allegations, which only emerged during yesterday's contest hearing at Laganside Magistrates Court, leading him to dismiss the case.

The court had heard that Mr Herbert was the owner of a property at Piney Lane in south Belfast, which had been rented to Ms Marin in July 2012.

However, Ms Marin stopped paying rent in November.

On January 11 this year, Mr Herbert (55), of Malone Road in Belfast, was driving home when he received a phone call from a staff member at estate agents BTW Cairns, who managed the rent.

Mr Herbert was told Ms Marin had stopped paying rent and would not be paying any more.

He decided to visit Ms Marin to reach a settlement.

Ms Burns, who was at her sister's house at the time, claimed Mr Herbert was in an angry mood.

She claimed he started "screaming and yelling and ranting and raving" – allegations strongly denied by Mr Herbert. During her evidence, Ms Marin alleged Mr Herbert "lunged" at her, leaving both of the women "terrified".

Mr Herbert denied every one of the allegations put to him.

He told the court he had gone to the property with the intention of trying to reach an "accommodation" with Ms Marin.

He said the women became "hysterical" when he arrived.

Mr Herbert added he was described as "a f****** greedy b******" by one of the women. He also claimed Ms Marin told him: "You f****** Jews are all the same – you're all money mad."

He said that "really upset me", and he left as he felt terrified.

His lawyer referred to inconsistencies in allegations made by the women in court and what appeared on their police statements.

He said the case against his client was "a manufactured story".

Deputy District Judge King agreed, referring to the "significant amount" of detail that only emerged in court. Dismissing the case, he said it had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

Mr Herbert declined to comment to reporters afterwards.

PROFILE

Michael Herbert owns Herbel Restaurants Ltd, which holds Europe's largest Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise. Mr Herbert has named numerous developments after his wife and business partner Lesley. He appeared at 970th place in this year's Sunday Times Rich List (the 18th richest in Northern Ireland), with an estimated wealth of £75m.

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