A High Court judge has delivered a withering verdict on a ‘disastrous witness’ engaged in a long-running property battle with a veteran Manchester solicitor.
In Eden v Parker, His Honour Judge Hodge QC said property developer Barry Parker was ‘probably the most difficult and opinionated witness I have ever had the misfortune to encounter from the bench’.
But the judge was also ‘troubled’ by aspects of solicitor Jack Eden’s evidence and – while satisfied he was not lying – said Eden ‘unconsciously’ recounted matters which were not true but which he now believed to have happened.
The 10-day hearing itself involved six hours of testimony from Eden, along with eight live witnesses, while Parker and his six live witnesses gave evidence for four days. Parker was in the witness box for more than 10 hours.
The pair, long-time friends until this litigation, began discussions eight years ago about the prospect of working on property transactions together. It was Parker who drew Eden’s attention to the chance to purchase and renovate derelict properties in Salford.
The principle dispute was whether, on three separate occasions, Parker had told Eden he would be able to renovate the Salford properties for less than £560,000. The developer said he had mentioned a figure of £80,000 per house but this was a ‘wholly provisional and tentative estimate’.
When asked in court whether he had guaranteed the cost of the works, Parker’s ‘emphatic and repeated response was that it was a lie; it was just rubbish’.
But personal injury specialist Eden, who has been a solicitor for 40 years, said the two had met following a site visit and agreed binding terms between them for a joint-venture agreement for the purchase and renovation of the properties.
The property was purchased in 2009 for a price of £300,000 and Parker then proceeded with the renovation.
By June 2010, the ceiling of £560,000 for the renovation cost had been reached and the refurbishment was a long way off being complete. Eden agreed to continue funding the completion of the works and the final payment was made in March 2011: the total renovation had cost £1m.
At the same time, the pair agreed to jointly purchase a small industrial estate in Oldham for £395,000. But after Parker had revealed short-term cashflow problems, Eden subsidised him for £100,000.
For five years, the court heard Eden has sought details of the actual cost of the Salford properties, the rental income and the cost of maintenance.
In court, Parker accused the solicitor of dishonesty and giving false evidence, as well as trading on his position in the profession. Eden’s barrister, Stephen Connolly, admitted his client had got ‘a little excitable’ towards the end of cross-examination but pointed out he would not risk an unblemished 40-year career by misleading the court.
Parker admitted he was not the easiest of individuals to get on with and was even described by his wife as ‘often regarded as a difficult person’. He had been said to be an ‘erratic and unreliable witness’ by a judge in a separate case and Connolly said the court should treat Parker’s evidence with ‘great scepticism’.
HHJ Hodge said he feared his judicial colleague may have been ‘too kind’ in his assessment of Parker and described him as ‘aggressive, combative and completely unwilling to engage’ with questions put to him.
The judge added: ‘He was prepared to throw allegations of dishonesty around like confetti at a wedding. Mr Parker’s frequent digressions in the witness box demonstrated a serious lack of rigour and focus, and an inability to concentrate on issues, even in the formal forensic atmosphere of the courtroom.’
But Hodge retained doubts about Eden’s evidence over an internal inspection review which the solicitor said Parker had carried out. The judge said on the balance of probabilities this assertion was wrong.
Hodge said a man as experienced and intelligent as Eden would have made professional assessments of the costs going into the project if he had been bothered by them then.
The judge was not satisfied Parker had deliberately misapplied or diverted moneys provided by Eden for the purpose of the renovation works. Parker was found not to be liable for costs associated with the renovation.
Hodge held that Eden was entitled to charge and recover interest on his outstanding outlay at the rate of 2.5% above the base rate. The admitted outstanding rent of £38,000 must be accounted for to the LLP they had formed. Parker has accepted he should pay off the current balance owing on the Oldham properties.