Court to rule on claims Lady de la Rue removed valuable fittings after selling Ayton Castle for £2.4m

An aristocrat has failed to stop a legal action taken against her by a property developer who claims she removed fixtures and fittings from her castle after selling it.

By James Mulholland
Monday, 29th June 2020, 4:00 pm
Updated Monday, 29th June 2020, 4:09 pm
Ayton Castle was sold by Lady Christine de la Rue to Richard Syred for £2.4 million in 2014.
Ayton Castle was sold by Lady Christine de la Rue to Richard Syred for £2.4 million in 2014.

Richard Syred launched legal action against Lady Christine de la Rue after buying Ayton Castle in Berwickshire from her for £2.4 million in 2014.

Mr Syred instructed lawyers to go to the Court of Session because he believes Lady de la Rue breached the deal they sealed over the sale of the 17 bedroomed Victorian property.

He claims that Lady de la Rue agreed to leave marble fireplaces and light fittings in the castle. However, Mr Syred claims that Lady de la Rue removed the fittings when she moved out.

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He also claims that Lady de la Rue breached an agreement to have Scottish Water test the castle’s water supply to see if it met quality guidelines.

However, lawyers acting for Lady de la Rue recently tried to have the action dismissed.

They told judge Lord Arthurson that the action brought by Mr Syred didn’t pass legal tests. They told Lord Arthurson that Mr Syred’s legal team failed to provide the court with a proper list of items which were apparently missing from the castle.

Lady de la Rue’s legal team also said that they believed the deal sealed between the two parties meant that their client didn’t have to obtain a test from Scottish Water.

They told Lord Arthurson that the matter should be dismissed. However, in a written judgement issued at the Court of Session on Friday, Lord Arthurson refused to stop the action and said a full court hearing should be held in order to test the claims.

Lord Arthurson said: “In all of these circumstances I propose to appoint a diet of proof before answer with all conclusions, averments and pleas-in-law standing. Meantime any matters of expenses arising will be reserved.”

Lady de la Rue, 77, was born in Norway. She moved into lover David Liddell-Grainger’s ancestral home near Eyemouth, along with her elderly husband, Sir Eric de la Rue. The pair only married after Sir Eric, 35 years her senior, died.

The living arrangement caused a media frenzy in the 1980s. However, she said there wasn’t anything unusual about the arrangement.

Lady de la Rue, who also had an affair with Prince Michael of Kent, decided to sell the castle left to her by Mr Liddell-Grainger on his 2007 death after it became a financial burden.

Ayton Castle is a category A listed Scottish baronial mansion dating largely from the 19th century.

It is not open to the public, although locals have limited access to one of the driveways and there is a gatehouse which is let out as a holiday cottage.

Among the famous guests to have enjoyed hospitality at the castle is American writer Mark Twain, who insisted on buying the dining room fireplace mantel during his stay in 1873.

In an article published in the Express on Sunday newspaper in 2018, a source close to Mr Syred told the newspaper that he was “astonished” when he found gaps in the wall which had been blocked up with “cheap plywood.”

The fireplaces are thought to be worth tens of thousands of pounds.

In the action brought to the Court of Session, Mr Syred is looking for the fixtures and fittings to be returned to the castle. He wants Lady de la Rue to pay for the items to be reinstalled - if the items aren’t returned then Mr Syred wants to be compensated for his loss.

Mr Syred is also wanting Lady de la Rue to pay for redecoration costs. He is also seeking a court order which states that the which states that Lady de la Rue failed to ensure that the water supply met legal guidelines. He also wants compensation to cover the cost of paying to be reconnected to the mains water supply and for his legal bills to be paid.

Lord Arthurson concluded that the matter should proceed and that Mr Syred’s claims met legal tests needed to advance the action.

He added: “Absent photographic material or a detailed incorporated report from a professional person such as a surveyor or valuer, it is difficult to see what further precision by way of averment can be required of the pursuers in such circumstances.”