‘Mr Selfridge’ in a £1.8million war with his ex-wife over their secret baby: Tycoon, 78, agreed to IVF child AFTER split but then tries to get divorce payment back
- William Alun Cathcart agreed to father a secret child with his wife after they split
- Pamela Owen had unsuccessfully tried to have another child using his stored sperm after they split
- A High Court judge threw out his attempt to have Owen stripped of her of the £1.8million she won after their divorce
A modern-day Mr Selfridge tried to strip his ex-wife of a £1.8million divorce payment during an epic 20-year legal battle.
The saga began when William Alun Cathcart, 78, former chairman of Selfridges department store, agreed to father a secret child with second wife Pamela Owen after they split.
Now the High Court has thrown out claims made by the multi-millionaire stemming from the ‘repugnant’ pact.
A top divorce judge blasted the pair’s ‘furious, hostile, embittered conduct’ as he accused Mr Cathcart of making ‘wholly misconceived’ accusations against his ex.
The businessman agreed to donate his sperm to Miss Owen, 66, behind the back of his new wife, more than three years after they split, in exchange for a vow by his ex-wife that she would never seek maintenance for the child.
But when the deal backfired he accused Miss Owen of fraud and threatened to tell his estranged children that his ex-wife was not their biological mother.
William Alun Cathcart, 78, former chairman of Selfridge’s department store, agreed to father a secret child with second wife Pamela Owen after they split
Mr Cathcart joined the high-end department store, whose founder Harry Gordon Selfridge was the focus of the ITV period drama Mr Selfridge, as a director in 1998.
During a six-year spell as chairman he oversaw the £600million sale of the company to Galen Weston in 2003 and was also chief executive of car hire giant Avis’s European business.
The executive was already a grandfather from his first marriage when he met Miss Owen, a former cabin attendant, and they married in 1997.
The pair, who couldn’t conceive naturally, had their first baby in March 2001 thanks to fertility treatment in California using donor eggs.
During a six-year spell as chairman of Selfridge’s, Cathcart oversaw the £600million sale of the company to Galen Weston in 2003
But the couple split just three months later, as Mr Cathcart – known by middle name Alun – formed a new relationship with another woman, to whom he is now married.
In 2004, unbeknown to his new wife, Mr Cathcart agreed to provide sperm for a second IVF baby using an egg donor with Miss Owen – but only if she guaranteed he would not have to pay maintenance, even demanding £100,000 as security against future claims by her, with the child born in 2005.
The wrangling began three years later when Miss Owen applied for maintenance while struggling to care for the children, who had ‘profound learning difficulties’.
In 2011, Mr Cathcart agreed to pay £20,000 a year per child, plus school fees.
A year later Mr Cathcart and his new wife were banned from passing information to the children about their conception until they came of age.
Miss Owen later obtained a court order to ban him from seeing the children and eventually told them the truth herself – after Mr Cathcart sought permission to reveal the secret.
Selfridge’s founder Harry Gordon Selfridge was the focus of the ITV period drama Mr Selfridge
The battle spilled into court again this year as Mr Cathcart accused his ex of fraud – based on his discovery that Miss Owen had unsuccessfully tried to have another child using his stored sperm after they split.
He applied to strip her of the £1.8million she won after their divorce, claiming that if he’d known of her attempts to have a baby behind his back he would not have agreed to it.
But Mr Justice Mostyn threw out Mr Cathcart’s allegations, saying: ‘It is difficult to understand the psychological processes that drive such furious, hostile, embittered conduct over such a prolonged period.’
The judge also insisted that the divorce payment was less than 20 per cent of the couple’s assets at the time.