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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Accident and tragedy in bizarre Cumbrian divorce row

A toddler's near-fatal fall and the sudden death of an ex-wife who had retired to Cumbria were all part of the bizarre chain of events which saw top judges intervene in a £10 million divorce row.

Beech Hill Hotel photo
Beech Hill Hotel, Windermere

Hotel tycoon Eric Richardson, 71, faced financial meltdown after the carve up of the family’s £40m business empire coincided with a £3m damages claim from the two-year-old girl’s lawyers and the unexpected death of his ex-wife, Harriet, in 2009.

But, in a decision which could save him £1m on his £5m divorce payout, Appeal Court judges came to Mr Richardson’s aid yesterday.

They ruled that his ex-wife’s estate cannot escape potential liability to young Paris Hunston, who suffered catastrophic brain damage in the fall.

Mr Richardson and his wife, married for 40 years, built up a thriving hotel and property empire. In September 2009, with their marriage on the rocks, a judge split their £10,906,734 assets, awarding £5,726,035 to Mr Richardson and £5,180,690 to his ex-wife.

As part of the deal Mrs Richardson, 70, was handed the former family home, Beech Hill Hotel in Windermere. She was to retire while her ex-husband agreed to “indemnify” her against any liabilities of the business.

The judge’s ruling might have drawn a line under the dispute, but for the death of Mrs Richardson just two months later.

Mr Richardson’s problems mounted with news the firm’s insurers were denying cover for the life-shattering injuries Paris suffered in a fall from a flat window in Manchester in 2004.

The revelation in December 2009 that insurers were refusing cover for Paris’ accident was a “mistake” that came out of the blue.

Mrs Richardson’s estate had to bear its share of potential liability for Paris’ injuries, and the judge ordered that £1m - which would otherwise have been due to the couple’s 42-year-old son, Fraser - will instead be paid into a court account pending the outcome of Paris’ damages claim.

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