Council’s case presented to the High Court is that Mr Wilson “Can Pay, Won’t Pay!”Published: 15/06/2022
On 13 June 2022 in the High Court, Ashford Borough Council secured a permanent Freezing Injunction against Mr Fergus Wilson, the effect of which prevents him from disposing of assets, including in the form of five named properties which it has been identified that he owns in Ashford.
The hearing took place before Mr David Lock QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court. The Council was represented by Adam Solomon QC and Mr Fergus Wilson attended representing himself.
The hearing on 13 June follows the Council securing an interim Freezing Injunction at the High Court on 1 June at a hearing ‘without notice’ to Mr Wilson, meaning he was not told of the application.
The Council did this given the risk that Mr Wilson will dispose of his properties immediately, while in the ‘Breathing Space’ under a debt moratorium which suspends enforcement action for 60 days that he had secured from Superior Insolvency Solutions and so frustrate the purpose of the application.
The Council took the action because Mr Wilson has defaulted (in full or in part) on three Court judgments relating to the payment of legal costs. Mr Wilson and his wife are now rapidly disposing of their assets and the Council believed there is a real risk that the costs orders of the court will go unsatisfied, and that future orders will be frustrated if a Freezing Injunction is not made.
The Council’s case presented to the High Court is that Mr Wilson “Can Pay, Won’t Pay!”
In its application to the court, the Council said that while Mr Wilson portrays himself in the press as one of the wealthiest men in Britain, owning a large portfolio of rental properties, to the Council and the court he claims he is a pensioner with little or no wealth, income or assets. He claims all the properties and assets are owned by his wife.
During previous court proceedings, Mr Wilson has made repeated references to selling properties and investigations by the Council shows that the couple have generated gross sale proceeds of £40.4m from the sale of 166 properties in recent years, with over £35m of that in the past two years.
The High Court heard that the Council was concerned that Mr Wilson was planning to avoid paying court costs and making himself immune from enforcement action by selling all his properties and transferring all his assets out of his own name.
As a result the Council has identified five properties in Ashford registered in his name and the Freezing Order prevents him from disposing of these assets.
The High Court heard that, when faced with possible enforcement action, Mr Wilson obtained a debt moratorium by appearing to give false information to ‘judgement proof’ himself.
In exchanges, the Judge asked Mr Wilson about a statement he made in a letter to the Council where he said: “I take more annually in salary and capital gain than the entire salary bill of Ashford Borough Council”.
Mr David Lock QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court, asked: “When you made the statement, was it true?”
Mr Wilson: “No, it was not true.”
Addressing court costs he has previously been ordered to pay the Council but defaulted on, Mr Wilson told the court: “I do not have it…. I have no money to pay.”
In respect of the properties found by the Council to be in his name, Mr Wilson indicated that he had not known they were in his name, these had been fraudulently put in his name and that they did in fact belong to his wife.
Mr Wilson told the court: “I should explain the investor is my wife, Judith Wilson, and not myself! I actually own no property and have never been a landlord!”
Mr David Lock QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court, told Mr Wilson: “I think that there is a very high chance that you are pretending to the court that you have no assets.”
The Council successfully applied for the Freezing Order to be made permanent. Mr Wilson was ordered not to remove from England and Wales any of his assets up to the value of £250,000, or in any way dispose of, deal with or diminish the value of any of his assets up to the same value.
In addition, Mr David Lock QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court, ordered Mr Wilson, within 14 working days after being served with the order, to swear and serve on Ashford Borough Council an affidavit setting out all his assets in England and Wales, whether in his own name or not and whether solely or jointly owned, giving the value, location and details of all such assets.
Mr Wilson was told the order would cease to have effect if he, or anyone acting on his behalf, paid £250,000 to the Council within 14 days, this sum to be held by the Council pending final conclusion of the detailed assessments of costs orders found in the local authority’s favour.
In addition the court approved interim charging orders on two of his properties. However, if Mr Wilson, or anyone acting on his behalf, pays £250,000 to the Council within 14 days, then these interim charging orders shall be discharged automatically.
Mr Wilson was also ordered to pay the costs of the Freezing Injunction application, to be subject to detailed assessment if not agreed. He was further ordered to pay the Council £20,000 as a payment on account of these costs by 4pm on 27 June 2022.
Once Mr David Lock QC, sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court, handed down the judgment, Mr Wilson stated in Court that his wife Mrs Judith Wilson will pay £250,000 to the Council.
Mr Wilson is a large-scale landlord in the South East, dubbed ‘Britain’s most controversial landlord’ in a BBC Panorama documentary. He has made national newspaper headlines on many occasions.
In July 2020 the Council was forced to take legal action to restrain Mr Wilson under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 after he had engaged in a long-running campaign of harassment. His behaviour had become intolerable and caused alarm and distress to officers and councillors.
The Council was not seeking damages, simply an end to the relentless campaign of harassment.
Following a hearing in February 2021, Mr Darryl Allen QC granted a final injunction restraining Mr Wilson’s harassment. He was ordered to pay costs of £125,000 on account by 17 May 2022. He has defaulted on this order, as he has done with costs orders made at court hearings in 2020 and 2021.