Guardian/Observer

Wife reduced millionaire to 'pitiful figure'

Divorce settlement cut to 175,000 after appeal judges find it 'would be hard to conceive graver marital misconduct'

By Amelia Gentleman
Friday May 7, 1999

A highly manipulative wife used her 'considerable charm and physical attraction' to reduce her elderly multi-millionaire husband to a 'pitiful' figure depriving him of his wealth and making him a prisoner in his own home, a judge ruled yesterday.

Commenting that it 'would be hard to conceive graver marital misconduct', Lord Justice Thorpe in the court of appeal said the couple's relationship represented one of the most extraordinary marital histories he had ever encountered.

He and two other appeal judges cut Julia Clark's divorce settlement award from about 800,000 to 175,000 and ordered her to leave the couple's mansion in Hampshire.

The judges heard that Mrs Clark, 49, married George Clark, 85, purely for his money; she refused to consummate their marriage and was reluctant even to share a house with him.

At times she banished him to in a caravan in the garden. Later she dispatched him to a nursing home for geriatrics before permitting him to return to a 'small, dark and depressing' annexe of the estate he had bought at vast expense, while she shared the rest with her lover, 15 years her junior.

'Her power to extract money from him is a thread running through the history,' the judge said.

Mr Clark developed 'an unconditional and unquestioning love' for his wife, and during the six years they were married he spent about 1m paying off her mortgage and buying and decorating various properties for her, including an estate worth 720,000, a cottage and three flats in London.

He was persuaded to buy one flat after she promised it would become their love nest, but she never had any intention of staying there, the judge said.

On one occasion she demanded that he buy a shop for her son.

Partly in order to finance this purchase, Mr Clark sold the house in Highgate where he had lived for 40 years, and his wife arranged for him to stay instead in a geriatric nursing home.

'In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that the husband attempted suicide by an overdose of his sleeping pills,' Lord Justice Thorpe said.

After a month in hospital, Mr Clark returned to his wife, but she soon reduced him 'to the status of prisoner in her home by removing his telephone and gate buzzer'.

Mrs Clark who was represented during the hearing by her son, Nicholas Doveton, a student at Southampton university arrived at the court every morning in an ambulance accompanied by a paramedic, claiming she suffered from agoraphobia. She was not present yesterday to hear the result.

The couple had both been widowed when they met at a Christmas party in 1991. Mr Clark, a former insurance broker, was extremely rich, but his future wife was in a 'desperate' financial situation when they met.

He paid her debts and wrote of his 'thrill and privilege' of being allowed to help her.

In June 1992 he sought a divorce on the grounds that the marriage was a nullity, but he later agreed to go back to her.

Mr Clark bought Wellow Park, once the home of Florence Nightingale, in 1994, paying 70,000 above the asking price of 650,000 because his wife was so keen to own it.

She spent another 100,000 dividing it into two unequal parts.

Mrs Clark allocated him the smaller part of the house, separated from her part by connecting doors with locks only on her side, while she installed her lover in her section.

Mr Clark tried to divorce her again, but was briefly reconciled and transferred to his wife the whole of his 2m share portfolio and three properties before being banished again to the annexe.

Mrs Clark bought a racehorse (inaptly named Lucky Lover, the judge said), and a second hand Bentley 'as a little present for putting up with five years marriage to him'. Lord Justice Thorpe said it was not surprising that the husband began suffering senile confusion.

In April 1997 she removed his telephone and the electric buzzer which allowed him to open the front gate the only means of entry or exit to the house.

'By that time he had become virtually a prisoner in the house. He had little money left. His phone calls were intercepted. His post was intercepted. Life for him was no longer worth living.'

After his family and the police stepped in Mr Clark filed for divorce for a third time, originally offering Mrs Clark 800,000 as a divorce settlement.

But Lord Justice Thorpe yesterday only allowed her to keep one property in Romsey, the Bentley and a boat worth a total of 50,000 with a lump sum of 125,000. Mr Doveton said his mother would take her case to the Lords.

Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999