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12 July 2011, 12:54
The house that inspired Toad Hall in Kenneth Grahame's classic book The Wind In The Willows is at the centre of a £5 million High Court dispute.
Fawley Court, just outside Henley, with its sweeping Thames frontage and acres of Capability Brown gardens, was the home of the Catholic Marian Fathers for 55 years.
When it was put up for sale in 2008, there were more than 150 viewings and 12 bids, with that of property developer Richard Butler-Creagh winning the day at £22.5 million.
Mr Butler-Creagh, of Colmore Lane, Henley, claims that he later agreed to walk away and let property investor Aida Hersham "step into his shoes" and take over his interest for a "facilitating" fee of £5 million, which was due upon completion in April 2010.
But Ms Hersham, from Eaton Square in London, who eventually purchased the 17th century house for £13 million, denies there was any such agreement.
She says there was an understanding that Mr Butler-Creagh would get something if a profit of £32 million was achieved on any future sale.
Mr Butler-Creagh's counsel, James Lewis QC, told Mr Justice Eady in London that the property, with its listed chapel and stables, was famed for "its exceptional quality and uniqueness'' and was widely attributed to Sir Christopher Wren.
He said: "It would be very unlikely that a person such as Mr Butler-Creagh would have given up his position or allowed someone to just take it over without agreeing a fee for doing so. So, we can safely take it that something must have been agreed although Aida Hersham says nothing was agreed."
He added that the position claimed by Ms Hersham did not "fit well'' with the contemporaneous and other accompanying documents.
Mr Butler-Creagh claimed that, after an October 2008 meeting with Ms Hersham at the Hotel du Vin in Henley, and her subsequent phonecall and oral agreement to pay the fee, he called his solicitor and told him about the deal.
Mr Lewis added: "It would be very strange, if Mr Butler-Creagh had not made such an agreement for #5 million, for him to have told his solicitors such and have asked for such an agreement to be drawn up."
The contested hearing, which is expected to last three weeks, continues.