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Bristol Judge finds sister of imprisoned husband also guilty of contempt of court

Date:7 NOV 2018

Earlier this year, wealthy Midlands’ property developer John Hart was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to 14 months’ imprisonment. Two weeks ago his sister, Susan Byrne, was also found guilty of contempt and she has now been jailed for 3 months.

The Harts have been involved in a long-running divorce dispute and were previously in the Court of Appeal in 2017 and 2018.

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John Hart, a wealthy Midlands property developer, 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 Mrs Hart, represented by Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, was given a settlement which involved the transfer of a particular company into her sole name. Mrs Byrne was the sole director of that company. 

Mr Hart told the court that he would transfer ownership to allow her 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, Mrs 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. She could have complied with the orders but chose not to doso.   

Sarah Balfour, family law partner at Irwin Mitchell Private Wealth, who represented Mrs Hart said: “It is right that the court has once again sent out a clear message that, once made, orders must be complied with."

This report is about Hart v Hart [2018] EWHC 548 (Fam) and Hart v Hart EWHC 549(Fam). The Court of Appeal judgment is at [2018] EWCA (Civ) 1053.