A sad tale of what began as a house extension but ended up involving fraud, personal liability and a murder charge
The story gets nastier as we go along. Michael Chudley is an experienced builder, of some 40 years. He spotted planning permission for a fair size house extension for Christopher Sear in posh Esher, Surrey. The builder’s bid was £218,000 and Mr Chudley suggested Mr Sear visit some examples of his work. A lady called Francine Whale would show him round her house extension and give comment. Later there became an issue as to the relationship between this lady and the builder. Anyway, the building contract for that price was agreed with Mr Chudley’s firm Kingfisher Builders and Mr Sear. The work began and moved quickly.
When the roof came off it was discovered that the external walls of the house were rendered clay pot tiles. That’s not good enough to support the new structure. The demolition was regarded as additional works and then as usual other extras crept in. By now, the price for the job, according to Mr Chudley’s firm of surveyors, was up from £218k to £418k. Mr Sear thought it was nearer £300k.
Are these the signs of a falling out? They are and they did. The builder cleared off at about month six. Both builder and client formed a new relationship - with their respective solicitors
The builder cleared off at about month six. Both builder and client formed a new relationship - with their respective solicitors. It all came to the High Court for trial No.1. At this stage it’s all very ordinary stuff as to who wrongly brought the contractual relationship to an end. This was decided. Then the judge in trial No.1 sent the builder and erstwhile client away to sort out the money due between them.
But they didn’t. So trial No.2 got under way some months later. Do you remember Francine Whale? Mrs Whale showed Mr Sear her house extension work and spoke for Kingfisher builders and for Mr Chudley. It seems that Mr Sear’s lawyers later sniffed out that Mrs Whale had not revealed her close connection with Mr Chudley, and asked the court to decide if she was a partner in this unlimited firm. Yes, she is, said the High Court judge, Mr Justice Ramsey. Moreover, the court decided that her involvement was fraudulent misrepresentation.
But the circumstances have become tricky. Kingfisher Builders is not a limited company – it is merely the trading name for Mr Chudley’s building work. That means he carries the can for any liabilities to do with this simple house dispute. Worse is that Mrs Whale is regarded by the court as a partner in Kingfisher, so she is at personal risk as much as Mr Chudley.
Trial No.3 is intended to find out the amount of money that should flow between Mr Chudley and Mr Sear for finishing the house and whatever other losses arise. It’s a quantum trial. It came to court 15 January 2013. But by now things have become exceptionally bad.
Kingfisher Builders is not a limited company. It is merely the trading name for Mr Chudley’s building work. That means that he carries the can for any liabilities to do with this simple house dispute
It was due to come before the court on 23 July, last. On 2 July 2012 the solicitor, who had been acting since 2009 for Mr Sear against Mr Chudley, was shot by a gunman at his offices in Devizes. On 22 July 2012, Mr Ward (the solicitor) died. The police have arrested and charged Mr Chudley with his murder. The builder is held on remand. The murder trial is in July 2013. I told you this story got nasty.
The quantum trial for balances due on this awful building story need not wait the murder trial, said the High Court. Mr Sear was pursuing Kingfisher and Mr Chudley and Mrs Whale. The first task was to fathom the value of work done. Quantity surveyor Adair Associates reported to the court. Its findings were accepted. It was valued at £186,613. But back in 2008, a few months into the job, Mr Sear had then paid £243,524. So Mr Chudley’s departure for alleged money due was not justified. That means he had repudiated and wrongly terminated the contract. It also means he is liable in damages - or rather he and Kingfisher and Mrs Whale are liable. They have to account to Mr Sear for the additional costs of completing the contract.
Also into the mix is the consequence of the fraudulent misrepresentation on the good standing and abilities of Mr Chudley, since the judge decided Mr Sear would not have otherwise entered into the building contract. By now Mr Chudley is not in a good financial position. But Mrs Whale is a candidate for all these losses. In short Mr Sear is entitled to recover from Mrs Whale £376,432 in damages. A legal costs trial is yet to come. And so too the murder trial.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator at 3 Paper Buildings, Temple