Gordon Ramsay loses court pub case
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has lost a High Court battle over his personal liability for the rent on a London pub after a judge refused to accept crucial evidence he gave in court.
The pub deal took place when his father-in-law Christopher Hutcheson was at the helm and helping him build his restaurant empire.
The superchef accused Mr Hutcheson in court of using a ghost writer machine, more commonly used by authors to sign books and photographs automatically, to forge his signature on a document which made him the personal guarantor for the £640,000 annual rent for the York & Albany pub near Regent's Park.
Today Mr Justice Morgan, sitting in London, dismissed as "entirely implausible" Ramsay's claim that he did not know the full extent of the use of the ghost machine.
The judge added: "Accordingly, I find that Mr Ramsay knew, long before the entry into the agreement for lease and the lease of the (York & Albany) premises, that the machine was routinely used to place his signature on legal documents.
"I do not accept his evidence to the contrary."
The judge rejected Ramsay's application for a declaration that the rental guarantee was not binding because his signature "was not lawfully authorised" when the 25 year lease was signed in 2007.
The judge said: "I find that when Mr Hutcheson committed Mr Ramsay to the guarantee in the lease of the premises, Mr Hutcheson was acting within the wide general authority conferred on him by Mr Ramsay at all times until Mr Hutcheson's dismissal in October 2010."
The judge added: "Mr Ramsay may now regret the transaction in relation to the premises. He may particularly regret his involvement as a guarantor.
"He may consider that Mr Hutcheson did a bad deal. However, on any finding, he is not able to say that Mr Hutcheson exceeded his authority in any respect.
"I hold that Mr Ramsay, acting though his agent Mr Hutcheson, is bound by the guarantee in the lease of the premises."
Film director Gary Love, who owns the York & Albany, had described 48-year-old Ramsay's legal challenge as an "absurd" attempt to wriggle out of his rental commitments.
Ramsay - the star of several TV food programmes including Hell's Kitchen - had told the judge he felt "like a performing monkey" while building his multimillion-pound culinary empire, with Mr Hutcheson managing his business.
His wife, Tana, said in evidence that the discovery that her father and brother were "systematically defrauding" her husband was "extremely distressing".
Mrs Ramsay, a close friend of Victoria Beckham, said she was aware of the use of the ghost writer machine, which enabled other people to reproduce her husband's signature electronically, but thought it was for signing merchandising when her husband was unavailable.
She added: "It did not even occur to me that the machine might be used to sign Gordon's signature on anything else."
Mr Hutcheson acted as business manager for the Ramsay group of companies until the chef sacked him and Mrs Ramsay's brother, Adam, on the grounds of "gross misconduct" in 2010.
Tana married Ramsay in 1996 and has four children with him. In court she spoke about her "dominating, very clever" father.
She recalled "the shock on Gordon's face" and the horror and disbelief when the couple's solicitor, Larry Nathan, of law firm Mishcon de Reya, told her husband that the lease for the York & Albany included a personal guarantee from him for 25 years.
The judge refused Ramsay permission to appeal against his decision but Ramsay can still ask the Court of Appeal itself to hear his case.
He now faces a heavy legal costs bill. It is understood that Mr Love, who opposed Ramsay's legal challenge, is claiming around £600,000 following Ramsay's defeat.
The judge ordered Ramsay to make an interim payment to Mr Love of £250,000 pending final settlement of the bill.
Ramsay also faces a large bill from his own lawyers which is likely to take his total pay-out to over £1m.
Romie Tager QC, who represented Mr Love, asked the judge to award costs on an indemnity basis - the highest scale available - arguing Ramsay's case had been "built on lies".
Jonathan Seitler QC, appearing for Ramsay, said the allegation was "unfair".
Mr Seitler added: "It was built on a perception your Lordship has found to be erroneous".
Refusing to order indemnity costs, the judge said: "It is right, as Mr Tager has submitted, that Mr Ramsay said things which I did not accept."
The judge added: "Whether he persuaded himself they were right, whether he thought that a bit of exaggeration would help his case, I won't know and I don't need to say."
Refusing permission to appeal, the judge said he was not satisfied there was "a real prospect" of Ramsay succeeding in an appeal, but it was open to him to go direct to the appeal court if he wished to take his case further.