Susan Byrne, the sister of wealthy Midlands’ property developer John Hart - who was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment earlier this year - has also been found guilty of contempt and has been sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.
The Harts have been involved in a long-running divorce dispute and were previously in the Court of Appeal in 2017 and 2018.
Mr Hart had been married to his wife Karen for 23 years when they first separated in 2006. During the course of their marriage they raised two children and together amassed a considerable fortune.
For many years Mr Hart worked with his sister, who is the director of many of his associated companies.
At the High Court in 2015 Ms Hart, represented by Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, was given a settlement which involved the transfer of a particular company into her sole name of which Ms Byrne was the sole director. Mr Hart told the court that he would transfer ownership to allow his wife to run the company in an efficient and effective manner. Instead, he and his sister removed the books and records of the company and refused to disclose their whereabouts.
During the course of enforcement proceedings, Ms Byrne accepted that she had access to relevant company information, documents and records. She initially agreed to provide them but, when ordered to, she failed to do so.
His Honour Judge Wildblood QC found that whatever Mrs Byrne’s motivation, she was in sustained breach of orders of the court as she could have complied with the orders but chose not to do so.
Sarah Balfour, family law partner at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth who represented Ms Hart, said: “It is right that the court has once again sent out a clear message that once made, orders must be complied with. His Honour Judge Wildblood QC delivered a fair and balanced judgment setting out the many opportunities that Ms Byrne had been given to comply.
“As before, Ms Hart has pursued these proceedings with the greatest of reluctance. All she has ever sought is the ability to run the company awarded to her in an effective way. 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 and his sister.”
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