Billionaire property developers the Candy brothers have won a bruising high court battle after a judge dismissed claims brought against them by a former friend for extortion, blackmail, intimidation and breach of the data protection act.
The three-year legal battle has pitted Mark Holyoake, a businessman with a colourful past, against his university housemate Nick Candy, and his brother Christian Candy.
“None of the protagonists emerge from this trial with great credit,” Justice Nugee told a packed courtroom as he delivered the verdict. The brothers were cleared of all charges against them, but each of the parties “has been shown to have been willing to lie when they consider their commercial interests justify them doing so”.
In a trial which dominated newspaper headlines, a succession of former friends, employees and business partners filed into the high court in London’s Fetter Lane to share lurid details of the Candys’ private lives and business dealings.
Starting with a loan from their grandmother, the brothers made their fortune by riding the wave of London’s luxury apartments boom. Their flagship One Hyde Park development in Knightsbridge, opposite Harrods, attracted Middle Eastern royalty, petro-billionaires and some of the highest prices ever paid for London real estate.
Holyoake had sought £132m in damages, after accusing the brothers of using threats to force him to pay £37m in interest and penalties on a £12m loan provided by Christian Candy’s property business to fund the purchase and redevelopment of a London mansion block.
The Candys described Holyoake as a liar and a fraudster, saying he put none of his own money into the project, and overstated his net worth in order to deceive them.
The judge agreed, saying in his verdict that Holyoake did not have the £120m fortune he had claimed in a statement of assets, and that as a result the lenders were entitled to treat the loan as in default.
Nugee agreed that Christian Candy, who sat beside his brother in the public gallery to hear the verdict, had threatened to “take a wrecking ball” to Holyoake’s assets, but that the threat was not unlawful.
Known as the “brothers bling”, the Candys’ rapid rise propelled them into a world of celebrity and obscene wealth. Nick wed the actor and singer Holly Valance at a star studded ceremony in Los Angeles five years ago, while Christian is married to the socialite Lady Emily Crompton.
Witnesses at the nine-week trial set out the Candys’ connections to household names, from the pop star Katy Perry, who was paid £1.2m to sing at Nick’s wedding, to the Queen’s grandchildren, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, who were among the guests.
Alongside the details of their celebrity friends, private jet and Candyscape yachts, the trial revealed a darker side to the brothers and their associates.
There was mention of the murdered Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko, who worked for an investigations firm whose director was a key Candy adviser.
The adviser himself, Steven Smith, told the court how he had suffered life-changing injuries after throwing himself out of a window during a burglary at his home in the south of France.
The brothers were accused of using violent language with their staff. A witness described how assistants were regularly reduced to tears, and claimed one employee had been fired “on the spot” after disclosing he had a serious illness.
Holyoake claimed Nick had warned his outstanding loan could be sold to Russian debt collectors, and that Christian had told him to “think about your pregnant wife”. Emma Holyoake, the claimant’s wife, took the stand to describe how she had turned their Ibiza home into a fortress, installing CCTV cameras and hiring security guards.
Nugee found that there had been no physical threat made to Holyoake’s wife, although Christian had made “an ill-judged and insensitive remark about her”. He dismissed the case saying there was “no duress, undue influence, intimidation or unlawful interference with economic interests”, and no breach of the data protection act.
Whatever the ruling, the Candy brand now lies in tatters. “Even if you find us completely innocent,” Nick told the judge during the case, “the rest of our lives there is going to be a slight smell.”
Holyoake approached the brothers in July 2011, seeking money at short notice in order to complete the purchase of a mansion block in London’s upmarket Grosvenor Gardens. Overnight, he secured £12m from CPC Group, the Guernsey-based property business run by Christian Candy. He planned to convert the building from low-grade offices to luxury flats.
What followed, claimed Holyoake, was a campaign of threats, abuse and intimidation directed at himself and his pregnant wife. Under pressure, Holyoake claimed to have entered into a series of further loan agreements which ultimately led to his repaying the original sum plus a further £37m. In order to fund the interest, he says he was forced to sell Grosvenor Gardens. His plans to redevelop the building were abandoned, and as a result he says he missed out on the profits this would have generated.
The first serious threats of legal action began in December 2014, and the case reached the high court last year with an ultimately unsuccessful attempt by Holyoake to secure a worlwide freeze on any sales of assets belonging to the Candys, who have declared a portfolio worth £600m.
The combined legal bills for both parties are believed to be more than £10m. The process has dented not only Holyoake’s pockets but his own standing.
The brothers cast doubt over Holyoake’s integrity, reminding the court that he had been investigated, (though never charged) by the Serious Fraud Office over the 2010 collapse of his fish importing business British Seafood. In a case that was eventually settled out of court, the blue chip investment firm 3i sued him for fraud, alleging that under Holyoake’s management the company invented sales to inflate its size.
The Candys’ troubles may not be over. The most serious allegations mounted against them by Holyoake concerned not just their alleged treatment of him, but the creation of an allegedly artificial business structure designed, according to witnesses, to enable them to evade millions in tax. They vehemently deny the claims.
Follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk, or sign up to the daily Business Today email here.