Millionaire cleared of blame over crash

THE multi-millionaire owner of a chain of estate agents has been cleared of blame for injuries suffered by a former business colleague in a quad bike crash at his Suffolk home.

THE multi-millionaire owner of a chain of estate agents has been cleared of blame for injuries suffered by a former business colleague in a quad bike crash at his Suffolk home.

Foxtons chief Jon Hunt and his wife Lois were sued for damages by former associate Steve Hewitt over the July 2001 crash in which he broke his collarbone, shoulder blade and several ribs after falling off the bike at 60mph.

He claims his injuries led to the collapse of both his marriage and his business, which had a contract to erect Foxtons' "for sale" signs.

The crash happened at a team building event at Heveningham Hall, the Hunts' 2,000-acre stately home near Halesworth.

In rejecting the claim, Judge Jeffrey Burke QC at the Central London County Court said Mr Hewitt's evidence was "unconvincing'.

Mr Hewitt, 39, of Clapham, south west London, had ridden the quad bike at speed through unfamiliar territory and was simply unable to brake in time, the court heard.

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He admitted taking amphetamines and drinking three cans of beer before getting on the bike.

Mr Hewitt had argued that Mr Hunt, 51, was negligent and had led him, without warning, into a dangerous pit.

But the judge said: "Mr Hewitt's actions were such that he voluntarily accepted the risks arising from his own choice of riding a vehicle of which he had no familiarity on ground unknown to him and at a great speed.'

Neither Mr or Mrs Hunt had given him permission to ride the quad bike.

The judge said that Mr Hewitt had seized the bike after becoming "emboldened by drink and drugs'.

He added: "I find that he took amphetamines and alcohol because they made a good day out more pleasurable and exciting.'

Mr Hunt, who denied negligence, argued the compensation claim was only triggered in 2002 after the pair stopped doing business.

He believed it was launched as a way to cash in on his successful career and wealth and to make him face the inconvenience of a trial and possible bad publicity, the court was told.

The court heard that Mr Hewitt's earnings were £50,000 a year, but further investigations cut that figure to £11,800.

The judge noted there were medical reports stating that Mr Hewitt had suffered from depression.

He suggested that reasons for the "exaggerated' salary claim may be found in "psychiatric reports rather than untrue statements'.

He ordered Mr Hewitt to pay Mr Hunt's costs, but the amount has yet to be assessed and set.

After the ruling, James Miller, for the Hunts, said: "This is a matter that has been hanging over them for a long time.

"I have no doubt that this is something that the Hunts would want to put behind them and want to move on.'

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