Sun. May 22nd, 2022

Isle of Wight Observer News

The Island's Free Newspaper

Battle for control of the George Hotel at an end

3 min read

The leaseholder of The George Hotel, Yarmouth, has spoken of his 18-month nightmare after winning a High Court fight with former TV weather presenter, Sally Johnson.

The case made national newspaper headlines at the weekend, with the battle resolved in Mr Spooner’s favour, handing full control of the hotel to him.

Originally, the duo planned to transform the 17-bed boutique hotel, with Mrs Johnson, now a designer, bringing her creative touch to the interiors and gardens. The revamp was to be partly bankrolled by Mrs Johnson’s husband, Charles ‘Brook’ Johnson. But Mr Spooner and Mrs Johnson fell out, with Mr Spooner accusing the couple of failing to provide £85,000 capital into the project.

Mr Spooner said the Johnsons ‘kept fobbing him off’, claiming he ‘quickly realised there was no transparency in items Sally was purchasing’.

Tensions came to a head in September 2019 when Mr Johnson asked Mr Spooner to ‘buy out’ his wife. After extended negotiations Mr Spooner agreed to pay her £133,000 to give up her stake in July 2020.

Mrs Johnson claimed, in court, that the July meeting was simply part of the negotiation and that no conclusive deal was ever struck. The Johnsons also made a case against Mr Spooner for failure to consult with them and his alleged ‘personal use of the hotel without accounting for it’.

But the judge backed Mr Spooner, holding that Mrs Johnson had agreed to sell her share to Mr Spooner when the financial impact of Covid began to bite, but later become ‘reluctant to sell’ as the hotel’s fortunes picked up.

“It came about because of the sighting of money on the horizon,” the judge concluded.

Mr Cooper told the IW Observer this week: “This has hung over me for the last 18-months. It all started off with this £85,000 which wasn’t put into the business, and the row has spanned three court cases and several other hearings.

“As well as her own costs, Sally will have to pay mine of more than £700,000. They were so high because the Johnsons refused to disclose certain documents and we had to get court orders to see them.

“They also falsely claimed they had never had any financial information, despite receiving over 14,000 pages of it whilst they were involved.

“They were constantly threatening me with ‘urgent injunctions’ and bombarded my solicitors with demanding letters. Even so, I will only get about 80 per cent of my costs back, so it’s been an expensive process.”

Looking ahead he added: “I feel battle-scarred, but great at the same time. The George has used lockdown, and the two months when we were closed at the start of the year, to continue to build and improve what we are doing here.

“We were incredibly disappointed to get a ‘one star’ hygiene rating a while ago, but things have been addressed and I can confirm everything is back in order and we have our ‘five star’ rating once more.

“My next aim is to buy the freehold, having extended the original lease until the end of the year. Myself, and my brother, Julian, have also bought a 25-year lease for Forresters Hall, in Yarmouth High Street. We will be turning this into a luxury family or honeymoon suite. It will be a fantastic place to stay and have full service from the hotel.

“I am also close to the completion of the works at Freshwater House (formerly The Royal Standard Hotel) which should be open properly in a month or so. So there’s a lot to look forward to over the coming months.”

Businessman Mr Spooner has been in the hotel and nightclub industry for 30 years and had nightclubs and restaurants in Chelsea, Fulham, Clapham and Hammersmith.