Ramsay's wife tells of family rift
The wife of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay has told a judge of her "extremely distressing" discovery that her father and brother were "systematically defrauding" her husband.
Tana Ramsay, a close friend of Victoria Beckham, made the allegation as she gave evidence in a high-profile legal action in which her husband is accusing her father, Christopher Hutcheson, of using a ghost writer machine to "forge" his signature.
Ramsay claims the machine was used without his knowledge to make him personally liable for the £640,000-a-year annual rental on the historic York & Albany pub near Regent's Park in London.
He is asking a High Court judge to grant him a declaration that the rental guarantee is not binding because his signature "was not lawfully authorised" when the 25-year lease was signed in 2007.
Film director Gary Love, who owns the York & Albany, has described Ramsay's allegation as an "absurd" attempt to wriggle out of his rental commitments.
Mr Hutcheson acted as business manager for the Ramsay group of companies until the chef sacked him and Tana's brother, Adam, on the grounds of "gross misconduct" in 2010.
Tanya married Ramsay in 1996 and has four children with him. Today, the third day of the hearing, she came to London's High Court dressed in black and spoke about her "dominating, very clever" father.
Mrs Ramsay, who is a TV presenter, writes cookery books and runs a beauty salon, said in her witness statement: "The knowledge that my father and brother had been systematically defrauding my husband was extremely distressing to me."
She 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 said: "It did not even occur to me that the machine might be used to sign Gordon's signature on anything else."
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.
Mrs Ramsay said her husband told her that "it takes everything we have ever worked for".
In cross-examination, she told Chancery Division judge Mr Justice Morgan: "Since the departure of my father and my brother from the business it has been a huge upheaval, but certainly myself I feel very comfortable with what the company has become. Whilst not immediately, it is certainly more transparent and on a much more solid basis."
Agreeing with the suggestion that her father was a dominating presence, she said: "Not only for me, but my siblings as well."
He had decided what doctors, dentists and lawyers the family should use and it got to the time when it was "healthier" to break away from him and for herself and her husband to have their own "trusted people", she said.
She added: "My father was someone, in my opinion, very very clever at times at giving enough information to satisfy, but never all.
"I think certainly when Gordon asked questions or sort of wanted to know things, sometimes it would be a case of my father keeping him incredibly busy or out of the country with not enough time to be told everything."
When asked by the judge if her father gave the impression that "Gordon doesn't understand these things and trust me to look after the financial side", Mrs Ramsay replied: "Yes, my lord, that would be true."
Describing the current family rift, Mrs Ramsay said: "I don't really speak to my father since he left the company unless it is concerning his grandchildren - we certainly don't have any comfortable conversations."
Earlier in the trial, Ramsay told the judge that his "deep and extensive trust" in his father-in-law was entirely misplaced" and Hutcheson had defrauded him and the group "of hundreds of thousands of pounds".
Romie Tager QC cross-examined Ramsay on Mr Love's behalf. He suggested the chef was not telling the truth and knew about Mr Hutcheson using the ghost writer, which electronically replicates a signature using a fountain pen or ballpoint, to sign business documents long before the York & Albany deal.
Ramsay told the judge he was telling the truth.
Mr Tager suggested to him: "When you expressed great displeasure about the signature being forged on documents, that is all manufactured.
"The fact is you didn't care whether the machine was used to write the signature and you don't really care today."
Ramsay said: "That is untrue. I brought this case to court because of the shock and unhappiness of being somewhat stitched on a guarantee my wife and I not were not a party to."
Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH) won a bidding war to secure the 160-year-old York & Albany building in the exclusive area of Regent's Park, north London.
The Independent reported that this pushed the rent far higher than the market rate and Ramsay has since turned the pub into an upmarket restaurant, bar and hotel.
The chef said in a written statement that the lease - though not binding on him personally - was binding on Gordon Ramsay Holdings Ltd (GRHL) and on Gordon Ramsay Holdings International Ltd (GRHI).
Ramsay said it would have been "unthinkable" to enter into a personal guarantee for each of the many restaurants he opened.
He said that would entirely defeat the purpose of running each of them through separate corporate vehicles.
Cross-examining Mrs Ramsay, Mr Tager suggested that she knew - as did her husband - that the maximum amount that the chef was liable to pay under the guarantee had been capped at only two years' rent, amounting to a total of £1.25m.
Mr Tager suggested that was very different from "taking away everything the chef had ever worked for", and Ramsay had conceded as much in court last week.
Mrs Ramsay replied: "I think, as my husband said to you last week in court, it is still a lot of money.
"It is still the situation we are unhappy. We were uncomfortable with something we were committed to."
Top female chef Angela Hartnett, who is a Ramsay protege, told the court in a witness statement that she was head chef at the York & Albany when it opened, adding: "We struggled financially due to the high rent of the property".
Ms Hartnett, who has been awarded an MBE for services to the hospitality industry, said she knew the company had a ghost writer machine.
She stated: "I always thought that it was only used for signing books and other merchandise".
Mr Tager asked her in cross-examination whether she was aware a card had also been prepared for her signature to be reproduced by the machine.
Ms Hartnett, who left the Ramsay group in December 2011 after 17 years to run her own restaurants in London, told the judge: "I don't recollect signing any document authorising the use of my signature."
Mr Tager said he was not suggesting it had been used improperly.
He asked Ms Hartnett whether she could say why the York & Albany hotel and restaurant "seems to have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, if not millions" over the years.
She said: "It was a big struggle in that part of London.
"We thought the rent was higher than we should have been paying for the market value."