Crown Dilmun wins court battle over Craven Cottage

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Judge rules that former employee Nick Sutton ‘lied’ over £50m purchase of Fulham FC ground

Former Crown Dilmun chief Nick Sutton was branded a liar last week as he lost a court battle with his former employer over his £50m purchase of Fulham Football Club’s Craven Cottage ground.

Sutton, who was Property Week’s Young Property Personality of the Year in 2002, this week hit back after a damning judgment from Justice Peter Smith, who backed Crown Dilmun in its claim against Sutton.

The company had accused Sutton of deliberately passing up the opportunity to buy Craven Cottage when a director at Crown Dilmun, so that he could buy it himself instead.

The judge found in the company’s favour, saying Sutton repeatedly lied to keep details of the opportunity to buy the site from his employer. ‘He failed without any justification to disclose this opportunity, but determined to take it for himself,’ the judge said.

However, Sutton said that while he conceded he had technically breached his employment contract, he felt Crown Dilmun would not have been in a position to buy the site when it came up for sale in 2002 because Crown Dilmun’s parent company Bahrain International Bank was in financial difficulties. He said he saw nothing wrong with trying to do the deal in a personal capacity.

‘When I entered the Fulham deal I did not think I was doing anything wrong,’ Sutton told Property Week this week. ‘I made a mistake by not disclosing the deal but I was very disappointed by the judge’s comments.’

The judgment reveals that although the Bank did have serious financial problems, Crown Dilmun was still acquisitive and was bidding on large properties during 2002.

When the company was offered the opportunity to buy the Fulham site from the club’s owner Mohammed Al Fayed in the summer of 2002, Sutton took responsibility for it as ‘his baby’. But in September that year, he told development director Simon Gawthorpe that the deal was dead because of planning problems.

It emerged in court that City & General’s Mark Steinberg was Sutton’s partner in the Fulham River Projects vehicle which acquired the site, although the judge made it clear he was exonerated from any wrongdoing.

Lawyer Sophie Hamilton of Forsters, FRP’s sole director, was criticised for failing to recognise her client Sutton’s breach of duty. ‘The alarm bells should have rung in her ears,’ he said. ‘They did not even tinkle.’

Throughout the judgment the judge repeatedly questioned Sutton’s honesty. ‘Mr Sutton broke his contract of employment and told a lie in his first witness statement,’ read the judgment.

‘This was one of a number of instances when Mr Sutton plainly told lies in his witness statements and the course of giving evidence.’

Sutton left Crown Dilmun in November 2002, after failing in his attempt at a management buyout of the company from the bank. He has dropped a claim of his own against Crown Dilmun for a £6m profit-share.

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