Hong Kong : The family of Hong Kong’s most celebrated war correspondent Clare Hollingworth said Sunday they were taking bankruptcy proceedings against a public relations consultant.
Legal papers were served Friday on 80-year-old Ted Thomas who faces the prospect of being declared bankrupt unless he pays the money agreed in a 2007 High Court settlement to 98-year-old Hollingworth within 21 days.
Briton Hollingworth, a correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph for decades, achieved fame in 1939 when as a young reporter on the Polish border she broke the story of the outbreak of the Second World War.
She remains a regular of the Foreign Correspondents Club in Hong Kong in her retirement and six years ago, fellow member Thomas took charge of her financial affairs when she was hospitalised with a broken hip.
He withdrew large sums in cash and cheques made out to himself after obtaining an ATM card and a cheque book and invested her money, claiming he was trying to improve her cash flow.
In one five-day period alone in August 2003, Thomas withdrew more than $190,000, claiming in one recent interview that much of the money was spent on “wet fish and taxis”.
Thomas, also a Briton, also withdrew money to cover hourly “chatting fees” he charged her during the time he helped look after her as she recovered from her operation.
A High Court case against Thomas, who runs public relations company Corporate Communications, was brought by Hollingworth’s family to recover the money.
The action resulted in a confidential settlement in 2007 which her grand nephew Patrick Garrett says Thomas has failed to honour.
On Friday, a statutory demand filed under the Bankruptcy Ordinance was served on Thomas demanding that he repay a total of 1.562 million Hong Kong dollars ($201,000), including interest of 181,544.95 Hong Kong dollars within 21 days or face bankruptcy.
Responding to the action, Thomas described the legal steps against him as “a shameful, pointless and inexplicable act of malice”.
He said: “I have offered to pay the money over a period of time but neither Patrick Garrett nor his lawyers took the trouble to reply to that offer.
“As I have said repeatedly, this is not about money. It is about a single-minded obsession to ruin me financially and socially and it takes no account of the fact that it has consumed all of Clare’s cash in the attempt, ruining her very contented life in the process.”
Defending his handling of the finances of Hollingworth, Thomas said: “When I was dragged into Clare’s affairs – very much against my will – she was spending over eight times her income.
“We cut that back significantly and more than quadrupled her income on investments. Left as it was she could have lived out her life, even beyond her 100th birthday.”
He insisted: “It is not Clare doing this. She knows nothing about it but over a million and a half (Hong Kong dollars) of her remaining capital has been wasted (on the court action to recover the money).”
However, Garrett, who works in Moscow but visits his great aunt in Hong Kong regularly, said although Hollingworth was forgetful and had poor eyesight and hearing it was “totally untrue” to suggest she did not understand and support the legal action.
“She told me ‘He (Ted Thomas) is just waiting until I am dead. But I want the money now. It’s my money and I want to be able to enjoy it in this world. I want to be able to buy some champagne with it’,” he said.
“Clare has always been an independent woman. She has always loved her champagne and caviar and loves a good drop of wine but otherwise she lives very frugally. All we have been trying to do is get back the money Mr Thomas took from her.”
Thomas did not give a clear answer on whether he would repay the money or face a bankruptcy action, but said: “I have found it difficult to work in the face of such a fixation.
“So I have shrugged it off, carried on with writing my latest book and concentrating on the more positive side of life of which there’s plenty. That plus my ongoing search for the world’s most perfect Martini.”