A pub landlady has been ordered to pay £54,000 in legal costs after her millionaire ex-husband sued her for opening his bank statement to find out if he was having an affair.
Karen Santi and ex-husband Lawrence Santi operated a string of London pubs together during more than a decade of marriage, and counted Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant, pop star Gwen Stefani, and Boris Johnson amongst their customers.
The pair split last year, with Karen, who serves drinks to well-heeled punters at the Princess of Wales in Primrose Hill, learning her “marriage was over” on returning from holiday to the £2.2 million family home in Hampstead last September.
While “angry and upset” and “looking for material to confirm her suspicion that her husband was having an affair”, she “accessed and read privileged material” including one of Mr Santi’s Lloyds Bank statements, London’s High Court heard.
She has now been hit with a £54,000 costs order – which her lawyers said will “wipe out the wife’s liquid assets” – after her ex took her to court, suing for misuse of private information.
Lawrence Santi, 46, is the CEO and founder of Marylebone Leisure Group, running 12 high-end pubs and restaurants employing 300 people across the capital.
He was born into the hospitality industry, with parents who were career restaurateurs, while his grandfather owned and operated two of London’s most popular nightclubs in the 70s – the River Club in Piccadilly and Talk of the Town in Leicester Square, now the Hippodrome.
His own venues include Bar Italia in Mr Johnson’s constituency, Uxbridge, and where he was pictured visiting in 2015 prior to becoming prime minister.
Karen, 46, meanwhile, ran flagship boozer the Princess of Wales in posh Primrose Hill.
But the pair’s marriage hit the rocks last year, and Karen returned from holiday suspecting Lawrence of having had an affair.
In her search for evidence of alleged infidelity, she opened one of his paper bank statements and read messages on his computer, and later sent some of the information she obtained to a financial advisor, the court heard.
She later told her husband in a message “You come at me and I’ll come at you,” Lawrence’s barrister Adam Speaker said.
In December last year, Mr Santi sued Mrs Santi in the High Court, seeking an urgent interim injunction.
He asked Mr Justice Nicklin to make a non-disclosure order covering the private information Mrs Santi obtained, an order that no copies be made, a demand that she make out a witness statement explaining what she had obtained and how, plus an “invasive” forensic imaging order intended to lay bare all the contents of her computer and other electronic devices.
At that hearing on December 22, Mrs Santi agreed to give undertakings to the court not to delete the private information and images she obtained, to deliver up hard copies of any of Mr Santi’s private documents she had and not to publish any of the information she obtained.
Last week, the warring former couple were in court again with Mr Santi demanding his ex should pay his £90,000 lawyers’ bill for the hearing in December.
Mr Speaker, for Mr Santi, told the judge: “Invasions of privacy are unlawful but all too common in family proceedings. Mrs Santi thought she could get away with invading my client’s privacy.
“Admissions of misuse of private information have now been made by Mrs Santi.
“She had in fact provided the privileged communications to a financial advisor,” he added, telling the judge that she told the husband in a message: “If you come at me I’m going to come at you”.
“The interests of justice require that this concludes with a costs order in the husband’s favour,” he said.
But Tim Scott QC, for Mrs Santi, told the judge that while the incident was “regrettable” it was “not serious” and should not result in an order he said would eat up all all the wife’s ready cash.
“She accessed and read privileged material in early September as soon as she returned from holiday and knew that the marriage was over,” he said.
“What we have is a wife who is angry and upset around the time of the breakdown of the marriage who was looking for material to confirm her suspicion that her husband was having an affair.
“Yes, she accessed a small amount of documents, but it is not serious. It is regrettable that we have to be here at all.
“The costs order sought would wipe out the wife’s liquid assets. The sums that are involved are very substantial.”
He argued that the wife should not pay all the costs as the judge had refused to make the imaging order sought by the husband and argued that any costs consequences should be dealt with later by a divorce judge.
“This is the second front in the divorce. All costs should be dealt with by the Family Court judge.
“The wife has some £40,000 in the bank and owes some £80,000 to her lawyers.
“She is already in deficit and has had to borrow money to pay her counsel today,” he said, telling the judge the husband’s costs of the privacy hearing were around £90,000.
Mr Speaker said in reply: “Regarding the assertion that Mrs Santi cannot afford to pay, my client does not accept that she does not have access to independent means whereby she could pay.
“The husband has been put at considerable expense by the wife’s stance and it is not accepted that she doesn’t have access to family trusts and suchlike from which she can pay.
“Her explanation for why she did what she did couldn’t form the basis of a legal defence to/for her actions.”
Mr Justice Nicklin, giving his ruling, said: “The parties are husband and wife. They are presently divorcing. These proceedings involve misuse of private information.
“The husband was seeking an immediate imaging order. I was unwilling to make that order. Such orders are amongst the most intrusive that a court can grant.
“The court has yet to decide where the merit lies in the overall matter….(but) she has accessed documents that she shouldn’t have.
“The wife has accepted responsibility, at least in part, for breaching the confidentiality of the husband.
“The wife says a case of one spouse accessing the confidential information of the other in the context of a marriage breakdown, whilst unlawful, is understandable.
“In this matter the court can see where the merit lies. There is a frank admission that she has accessed a small amount of documents belonging to the husband that she ought not to have done.
“I do not agree that this all should have been left to the Family Division.
“When access has been made to confidential documents by a spouse, or anybody else, a claimant is entitled to access a remedy in the High Court Queens Bench Division on an urgent basis.
“In my judgment, the husband was entitled to bring these proceedings. The application made for an injunction in these proceedings was in my judgment justified.
“The husband is justified in saying that the injunction being sought led to the undertakings that were not offered prior to the hearing.”
The judge ordered Mrs Santi to pay 60 per cent of her ex-husband’s £90,000 costs, amounting to £54,000.
He said payment would be deferred until the divorce develops further, but added that Mr Santi’s lawyers could apply for payment on account once their case commences in the family courts.
But he added: “In matrimonial proceedings, both parties can become quite entrenched and both parties need to have regard to the pot of money they have to divide between them.”