Elderly millionaire jailed for contempt over divorce settlement
John Hart was sentenced to 14 months in prison.
A wealthy property developer has been jailed for 14 months after being found in contempt of court in relation to his divorce settlement.
John Hart, 83, was ordered to hand over £3.5 million of his £9.4 million wealth to his ex-wife, former air hostess Karen Hart, as well as his shares in company Drakestown Properties Limited – two estates of industrial units in the West Midlands.
The shares – amounting to a “substantial part of the wealth” Ms Hart should have received as part of the June 2015 divorce settlement – were transferred to Ms Hart, making her the owner of the company.
Judge Stephen Wildblood QC said Hart had “done his utmost to frustrate her ability to run it efficiently and effectively” as he “bitterly resents” that the company has been transferred to his former wife.
Having reflected on the contempt that you have committed I have concluded that a financial penalty would be wholly inadequate Judge Stephen Wildblood QC
After delaying the transfer of the company, Hart and his staff “stripped out all the management records of the company”, leaving behind only two bank statements and a collection of licences and leases, the judge said.
Hart was ordered on two occasions, in February and July 2016, to provide information to his ex-wife but failed to do so.
Judge Wildblood found that Hart had acted in “serious contempt” of the orders and his undertaking from the original divorce settlement in February this year – with the sentencing taking place at Bristol Magistrates’ Court on March 14 and 15.
The judge jailed Hart for 14 months, telling him: “Mr Hart, so serious are these acts of contempt that only a sentence of imprisonment is justified.
“Having reflected on the contempt that you have committed I have concluded that a financial penalty would be wholly inadequate. Orders of the court and the rule of law must be observed.”
The judge said he and Ms Hart had made “every effort” to avoid having to bring Hart’s contempt to “this crisis point”.
“This is a man who has received repeated warnings already that he must comply with court orders and he has chosen, repeatedly, not to do so,” he said.
Hart’s contempt has been “motivated by a wish to demonstrate his resentment against Ms Hart about the financial orders that were made in these proceedings in her favour,” Judge Wildblood told the court.
He described Hart’s breaches as “persistent, damaging, motivated, continuing in part and bear no remorse at all from him”.
“A prison sentence will have a very marked effect on him,” the judge said.
“Mr Hart is now aged 83 and nobody wants to see a man of that age going to prison unless it is genuinely necessary.
“Mr Hart has been a successful businessman and has contributed to society through the businesses that he has run and the employment that he has provided for others.
“The effect of these proceedings is that Mr Hart has not only lost some of the money which he holds so dear, but he has also experienced the loss of his relationship with his former wife and children.
“From the upbeat, proud and canny businessman that I first saw three years ago, he is now an isolated and sad man seemingly unable to enjoy for his remaining years the millions of pounds that he still owns.”
Hart, who has agreed to pay his ex-wife’s legal costs of about £100,000, also suffers from ill-health including prostate cancer.
Judge Wildblood described the proceedings as “unnecessarily protracted” and said they had placed an “immense burden on limited public funds”, telling Hart this would continue as a result of his incarceration.
Representing Hart, Grant Armstrong had told Bristol Magistrates’ Court: “He is a man of good character, exemplary character, who has demonstrated the fact that one can rise from running effectively the market stall to being a man of considerable wealth at the time when he met his wife.”
Speaking after the case, specialist family and divorce lawyer Sarah Balfour, of Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, said Ms Hart had attended court with “a heavy heart”.
“She has behaved in an exemplary fashion in conducting the proceedings which were extraordinarily difficult, lengthy and costly due to the approach of Mr Hart,” she said.