A divorcing multimillionaire couple have been slammed by a judge for turning their children into ‘losers’ after squandering more than two million pounds on legal fees in a ‘nihilistic’ court fight.
During their 22 years together, shipping tycoon Captain Paul Anthony Crowther, 54, and horse-loving wife Caroline lived a life of luxury in a sprawling £4.5m manor house near Hartfield in the East Sussex countryside.
The pair operated a lucrative Brighton-based business that chartered ships to offshore oil, gas and wind farm industries.
But after the wealthy couple’s relationship collapsed in 2018, they began an ‘intensely acrimonious’ court fight over the assets of their failed marriage.
Although they had at one time owned assets worth millions, they have blown over £2.3m in fighting a bitter divorce case through 34 separate hearings before judges, family judge Mr Justice Peel said.
The business, reportedly worth around £8million, was taken off the table during a previous hearing, leaving the former spouses to battle over the rest of their assets totalling around £5million – mostly their £4.5m home and and other assets worth around £350,000.
However after selling their property, they netted £3,587,067, of which more than £2.3million was squandered on legal fees.
From what was left, Mr Justice Peel awarded Mr Crowther just £77,414 and his ex-wife £660,961, saying: ‘The only beneficiaries of this nihilistic litigation have been the specialist and high-quality lawyers.
‘The main losers are probably the children, who, quite apart from the emotional pain of seeing their parents involved in such bitter proceedings, will be deprived of monies which I am sure their parents would otherwise have wanted them to benefit from in due course.’
The couple still have over £340,000 worth of yachts, horses, vehicles and guns, the judge added.
Captain Paul Anthony Crowther, 54, (right) and ex-wife Caroline Crowther, 49 were slammed by a judge for making their children into the ‘losers’ after squandering £2.3m on lawyers in their ‘nihilistic’ divorce battle
Paul (pictured) was awarded just £77,414 of the couple’s remaining fortune in their legal fight
A previous court hearing heard that Mrs Crowther, 49, a keen rider, splashed out on a string of ‘valuable horses,’ while the couple also enjoyed a fleet of ‘valuable cars’ and a stake in a private plane whilst their kids attended private schools.
The former couple’s assets also included the £4.5m pound manor house which was their former matrimonial home, at Landhurst, near Hartfield, in East Sussex.
The house was formerly the country home of film mogul J Arthur Rank, and is situated immediately adjacent to the farm where Winnie the Pooh was written, close to the site of the real Poohsticks Bridge in Ashdown Forest, and the places that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood.
In the Court of Appeal, in an earlier hearing last year relating to a freezing order, Lord Justice Males had explained: ‘Paul and Caroline Crowther used to run a shipping business together, but are now in the throes of a bitter divorce.
‘Mr Crowther’s expertise was in shipping, so he was responsible for chartering out the vessels and for their management and operation. Mrs Crowther dealt primarily with the financial side of the business and also with property management.
‘It appears that the business was sufficiently successful to enable the Crowthers to enjoy an affluent lifestyle.
‘They lived in a house in Sussex valued in excess of £4.5 million… educated their three children privately, owned horses, for which purpose they employed a groom, a collection of expensive cars, and until recently an interest in a private aeroplane.
As well as the disputed ships, the former couple’s assets include the £4.5m manor house which was their former matrimonial home, near Hartfield, in East Sussex
‘The depressing procedural history of the divorce proceedings so far… demonstrates a high degree of acrimony and mistrust on both sides’.
Now ruling on the division of the couple’s remaining assets in the High Court, Mr Justice Peel said that the manor at Landhurst ‘was sold for £4.5m; the net proceeds of sale were £3,587,067’ but that the money has since ‘been depleted by sums paid out for legal costs’.
He described the wife as ‘capable, competent, and intelligent’ but added that she had ‘regarded every act by the husband with extreme suspicion’ after he closed the family business and transferred the assets to another business in his sole name in order to exclude her.
‘To have closed the family business, of which she was a joint owner, and simply transferred all assets, staff and operational activities to a new business owned by him, was egregious conduct’ the judge said.
‘The husband set the tone for the litigation,’ he said, adding: ‘The husband feels a great sense of anger towards the wife and, I suspect, her solicitors for the conduct of the litigation. As a result, he tended to display a sense of injured righteousness’.
Mrs Crowther had argued that a £10m fleet of boats owned by offshore companies were in reality assets of the marriage and ought to be put in the pot when their wealth is split. Pictured: The Atlantic Discovery, one of the boats being fought over
But he added that the wife ‘is not entirely free of blame in her conduct of the litigation.’
Mrs Crowther had told the judge that she needed over £1m from the divorce in order to buy a new house, but the judge said that might never happen due to the money which has gone on their court fight.
‘The sums available may not enable either party to purchase a property at anything like the level they would aspire to, although I note that the husband did not put forward property particulars for himself,’ he said.
‘They may have to continue to rent – as they have done in the past. In the end, they will have to tailor their needs according to available funds.
‘At the risk of repetition, it is the incidence of costs which has directly led to this situation.’
He added: ‘Each party thinks the other is, to use their own words, “out to destroy” them.
‘These proceedings have been intensely acrimonious. They, and their lawyers, have adopted a bitterly fought adversarial approach.
‘I asked myself on a number of occasions whether the aggressive approach adopted by each side has achieved anything; it seems to me that it has led to vast costs and reduced scope for settlement.
‘The toll on each party is incalculable – the wife was visibly distressed during the hearing – and, from what I have heard, the impact on the children has been highly detrimental.’
He found that neither had any hidden assets and said he was splitting the remaining money in the favour of the wife because of the husband’s conduct, much higher earning capacity and the fact she was the main childcare provider.
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