Duncan Ferguson, one of the directors of a company that managed the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi’s £5.5bn Berkeley Square estate in London, claims he was sacked after he went part time to nurse his terminally ill wife
The director of a company that managed the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi’s £5.5bn Berkeley Square estate in London claims he was sacked after he went part time to nurse his terminally ill wife, a tribunal heard.
Three other directors of the company that had looked after the Estate for 16 years were also fired, with one of them telling the tribunal they were treated like ‘dog excrement’.
The four all owned Lancer Asset Management who managed over 100 properties comprising the prime portfolio in Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Oxford Street and Kensington Palace Mansions, dubbed Britain’s most expensive street.
The Abu Dhabi royals bought the estate in 2001 for £325 million. Under Lancer’s management it is now valued at £5.5 billion.
Properties include the iconic Annabel’s nightclub and the Clermont club and casino founded in 1962 by John Aspinall with original members including five dukes, five marquesses, almost twenty earls and two cabinet ministers.
Over the years it became a haunt for the rich and famous including the likes of Peter Sellers, Lord Lucan, the Duke of Devonshire, James Goldsmith and Kerry Packer.
The lucrative contract was transferred from Lancer’s to Astrea Asset Management last year and the founders and directors were due to be transferred as well.
John Kevill, Andrew Lax and Byron Pull are claiming unfair dismissal from Astrea when they were fired on the transfer day.
A fourth man, Duncan Ferguson went just days later.
Three other directors, John Kevill, Andrew Lax and Byron Pull (pictured) are also claiming unfair dismissal from Astrea when they were fired on the transfer day
He lost his £140,000-a-year post as asset management director at Lancer after Astrea took over the contract with jobs being transferred under a TUPE arrangement in September 2017.
Under TUPE rules, the new company have to honour previous contracts. The four claim they were sacked on trumped up charges to be got rid of without Astrea having to pay them what their contracts said.
Astrea allege the four were fired because of gross misconduct by changing their contracts to give them ‘golden parachutes’ and 50 percent bonuses, the tribunal heard.
The directors, who owned Lancer between them, deny they obstructed the handover process and claim their employment rights were breached by Astrea.
Mr Ferguson said in a statement that he met with Astrea’s CEO, Giles Easter, and Abu Dhabi Financial Group’s operating officer Mustafa Kheriba, on the transfer date on September 29 last year.
He said: ‘During this meeting, Mr Ferguson, Mr Easter and Mr Kheriba discussed the handover of the services and the future management of the Bekerley Square Estate.
‘Mr Kheriba also queried the claimant’s part-time working hours, in response to which the claimant disclosed that these working arrangement were due to his wife suffering from a terminal illness.
‘On October 2 2017 the claimant attended work for Astrea at its new office premises, arranging meetings and speaking with lawyers regarding the Berkeley Square Estate.
‘At approximately 11.40am the claimant was called into a meeting with Mr Easter, at which Mr Easter confirmed that the claimant was to be summarily dismissed.
‘The claimant left the Astrea offices at approximately midday to attend a medical appointment with his wife.’
The Royal Family of Abu Dhabi’s £5.5bn Berkeley Square estate in London comprises properties including the Kensington Palace Mansions, Annabel’s Nightclub and the iconic Clermont club and casino
Properties in the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi’s £5.5bn Berkeley Square estate include the iconic Clermont club and casino founded in 1962 by John Aspinall. Over the years it became a haunt for the rich and famous including the likes of Peter Sellers (right), Lord Lucan (left), the Duke of Devonshire, James Goldsmith and Kerry Packer
The tribunal heard former Lancer CEO and co-founder Mr Kevill, said the directors were treated like ‘dog excrement’ by the Abu Dhabi Royal Family’s ‘operatives’ who fired them.
He said: ‘We were treated like dog excrement on a foot being scraped off a pavement, so you can see there’s an element of frustration.’
Mr Ferguson said he was not given any written reasons for his dismissal, with Mr Easter telling him it was on the instruction of Mr Kheriba.
His document added: ‘It is denied that there has been any breach by the claimant of fiduciary duties and implied contractual duties to Lancer, as alleged or at all.
‘Astrea did not conduct any investigation into the alleged gross misconduct committed by the claimant prior to make the decision to dismiss.
‘The Claimant’s position is that the allegations against him in the dismissal letter are untrue, patently absurd, and that the real reason of the termination of his employment is that Astrea is seeking to avoid the liability it inherited under TUPE for the substantial payments which the claimant is contractually entitled to receive on termination of his employment.
‘And/or the claimant was dismissed because of the wife’s terminal illness and/or the impact this would have on the claimant and his ability to perform his role.
‘And/or the claimant was dismissed on the grounds he was a part-time worker and/or the impact this would have on the claimant’s ability to perform his role.’
Privately-educated director Mr Kevill was also covertly recorded talking to Mr Easter in a Mayfair pub saying: ‘Remember just 55 years ago they were sitting on a rock pointing at goats and picking their noses. Property is what Arabs call their first love.’
Mr Kevill described the recording as ‘police state style surveillance’ and added: ‘We had done what nobody else had done in London.
‘It was a fantastic unparalleled success and the way we had been treated comes out in some way in my expletives and I apologise for my language but I was being forceful and was not aware that he had the advantage of a device.’
He denied using the term Arab in texts to colleagues was derogatory to his clients saying: ‘My respect for the ruling family is immense, some of the operatives are the people who have caused us much hurt.’
Simon Devonshire QC, for Astrea, asked: ‘One of the criticisms made of you by Astrea is that you put in place what are described as golden parachute terms.
‘Effectively what you have done by a stroke of a pen is entitled yourself to hundreds of thousands of pounds. Alternatively it’s a method of sticking it in the transfer.’
Mr Kevill said: ‘We were looking to address old contracts to get them up to date.
‘We were looking to extend the comfort blanket through and if that’s as a result of the ignominy that we had to face so be it.
‘When we did pay our bonuses they were at 50 per cent.
‘Going into the new world the security we are looking for to keep people clean and focussed on the job of supplying the service to the end and the termination payment agreement would only have been payable should we be sacked or made redundant post TUPE.
‘The concern was in the future, in the uncertain world with people we did not know, we wanted them to have the focus of the services, for the provision of the services.’
Mr Devonshire asked why Mr Lax had taken months off work to go sailing and suggested the directors had up to nine private property portfolios being worked on by their company staff when they were sacked.
Mr Kevill said of Mr Lax: ‘This is approximately the time when Mr Lax had a heart attack and he took some time off to recover.
‘So yes he did take a good period of time and we had a mantra in the business that family comes first so any health issues these colleagues had we were supportive of their recovery.’
All four claim unfair dismissal and unlawful deduction of wages from Astrea.
Mr Ferguson also claims disability discrimination against Astrea and Mr Easter and breaches of TUPE regulations against Lancer as a result of regulatory failures by Astrea.
Mr Pull and Mr Lax make similar TUPE claims against Intensive Management Support Ltd and Abbostone Property Services Ltd respectively.
These were companies subcontracted to Lancer as part of the service contract.
The tribunal continues.