Young v Young, which became known in the press as the ‘Brewster’s Millions’ case, became a cause célèbre in both the legal world and the media. The case lasted for many years until Vardags took it over for the final financial hearing, which came before the High Court in 2013.
Scot and Michelle Young moved in together in 1989, married in 1995, had two daughters and separated in 2006. Mr Young was an entrepreneur, primarily involved in property and tech companies, and he generated substantial wealth during the marriage as a result.
Throughout the divorce proceedings, his case was that in 2006, primarily due to a property deal collapsing, his entire business empire imploded and he lost everything. Mrs Young maintained that this was a sham and entirely engineered with a view to defeating her financial claims within the divorce proceedings.
At the time of the final hearing, Mr Young was legally bankrupt and claimed that he had debts amounting to over £28m. However, Mrs Young’s case was that he had “many hundreds of millions”, if not “a few billion”, hidden in a series of complex offshore trusts. She also maintained that a number of his friends and business associates had been secretly making payments with Mr Young’s hidden money to provide for her and the children.
A number of high profile businessmen were summoned to give evidence in relation to this issue, including retail guru Sir Phillip Green, fashion billionaire Richard Caring and Scotland’s first billionaire Sir Tim Hunter. The media was fascinated by the prospect of hidden millions and the Young’s lavish lifestyle; stories circulated about million pound necklaces and Land Rovers filled to the roof with couture.
Prior to the 20-day long final hearing, there had been six years of litigation in which 65 preliminary hearings had taken place. With Scott Young remaining resistant to disclosing his assets, the litigation continued. Though rarely dispensed in the family courts, Vardags, representing Michelle Young, fought for a Writ ne exeat regno, to be granted. Scott Young’s passport was impounded for months while investigations into his non-disclosure proceeded, a feat rarely achieved in the family courts. In 2013 Mr Young was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for contempt of court.
The judge found that Mr Young had indeed had substantial assets in March 2006, that he had overstretched himself with the property venture and that he had cut his losses at that time, leaving his business to “implode”. From the information available, the judge found that in March 2006 Mr Young’s assets had totalled at least £45m. The judge had “no idea what has happened since then”, but on the limited evidence before him, found that Mr Young still had £45m hidden from the court.
The judge deducted £5m for Mr Young’s legitimate debts, making a net total of £40m.
Mr Young was ordered to pay Mrs Young £20m within 28 days plus costs of £5m (believed to be the largest ever cost order made in family proceedings) and maintenance arrears totalling £1.5m. This was also the largest ever award against a declared bankrupt.
Shortly after the judgment Mr Young sadly died after falling 20 metres from the window of his apartment to the railings below.
Young v Young was a particularly acrimonious case, of which the intensity was hugely amplified by the trial unrolling in full glare of the media. It has become a cautionary tale against trying to divert the course of justice by hiding assets and an example of the emotional strain public divorce battles can cause.
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