Personal relationships are generally considered private matters, but it is sometimes necessary for judges to delve deeply into them in order to discern whether binding promises have been made. One such case concerned a handyman who formed an intimate relationship with his very wealthy employer.
The woman, who was worth about £10 million, had taken on the handyman to do odd jobs around her country estate. However, after their relationship developed, he claimed that they had lived together as man and wife for several years before they parted acrimoniously. He alleged that she had promised him a stake in two residential properties and shares in a company that owned a third. Alternatively, he sought compensation for work he had done on the properties.
She accepted that she had had a dalliance with him, but argued that their relationship never moved beyond that of an employer and employee who became good friends and companions and occasionally enjoyed sexual intimacy. She denied that she had ever promised him any part of her wealth, which was in part derived from her divorce but also from her success as a property developer.
In dismissing the handyman’s claim, a judge found him to be a thoroughly dishonest witness. The woman had never had any interest in forming a committed relationship with him and he had never been any more to her than a kept man, in addition to being an employee or jobbing worker.
She had made him no enforceable promises and he had never genuinely believed that she was his business partner or that he would be entitled to a share of any of her assets. There was also no credible evidence that he had done any work for which he had not been paid. The facts of the case emerged as the Court of Appeal dismissed his challenge to the judge’s decision. Neither the judge’s assessment of the witnesses nor his findings of fact could be faulted.