Gordon Ramsay loses court battle over ‘forged signature’ in property deal
Celebrity chef loses High Court action after accusing Christopher Hutcheson of using ghost-writing machine to ‘forge’ signature over rental on London pub
Gordon Ramsay has lost a High Court battle with his father-in-law over a “forged” signature on a property deal after a judge ruled that “regret” over a bad business transaction was not grounds for a legal bid.
The celebrity chef had claimed that a “ghostwriting” machine was used to forge his signature without his authorisation, meaning that he should not be liable for the £640,000–a-year annual rent on an upmarket London pub.
He told the court he was “devastated” when he discovered Christopher Hutcheson, his estranged father-in-law, had signed him up as a personal guarantor for the “extortionate” rent and said he thought the machine was used only to sign cook books and merchandise.
But Mr Justice Morgan dismissed much of his evidence, saying it was “entirely implausible” that Ramsay did not know the full extent of the use of the ghost machine.
He found that the machine was frequently used to sign legal documents on Ramsay’s behalf and that Mr Hutcheson, then CEO of his company, was given free rein to do so as he wished.
“Mr Ramsay may now regret the transaction in relation to the premises,” he said in his judgment.
“He may particularly regret his involvement as a guarantor. He may consider that Mr Hutcheson did a bad deal.
“However, on my findings, he is not able to say that Mr Hutcheson exceeded his authority in any respect. I hold that Mr Ramsay, acting through his agent Mr Hutcheson, is bound by the guarantee in the lease of the premises.”
Ramsay accused Mr Hutcheson of using the machine to forge his signature on a 25–year lease for the York & Albany pub in the Regent’s Park area of north London in 2008
He asked the judge to grant him a declaration that the rental guarantee was not binding because his signature “was not lawfully authorised”.
Film director Gary Love, who owns the York & Albany, described Ramsay’s allegation as an “absurd” attempt to wriggle out of his rental commitments.
The eight-day hearing shone a further spotlight on the acrimonious relationship between Ramsay and Mr Hutcheson, who parted ways in 2010 when Mr Hutcheson was sacked on the grounds of “gross misconduct”.
The court heard that Mr Hutcheson “cleverly” kept Ramsay out of the country so he could “systematically defraud” him.
However, the judge found that when Mr Hutcheson committed Ramsay to the York & Albany guarantee he was “acting within the wide general authority conferred on him” by the chef.
The judge listed 42 legal documents on which he found Ramsay’s signature had been placed using the machine.
He said there did not appear to have been any secret within the company about the extensive use of the machine for this purpose, which was “obviously very useful”.
The judge said there was no reason why Mr Hutcheson would have wanted to defraud Ramsay with regards to the lease, particularly as Ramsay admitted he would have agreed to give a personal guarantee had he been asked to do so.
He said Mr Hutcheson had “extensive authority” to bind Ramsay contractually in a range of business deals and that the chef willingly left such matters to him whilst he concentrated on the operation of the kitchens, his chefs and menus.
The judge refused Ramsay permission to appeal against his decision. He now faces a legal bill totalling more than £1million.