Victory For Good Guy Paul McKenna In His Legal Battle With Clare Staples

30/08/2016 14:23 | Updated 31 August 2016

The on-stage encounter

Early in his journey to becoming an internationally renowned hypno dude Paul McKenna was performing the stage show which would later morph into the prime time smash hit The Paul McKenna Hypnotic Show. It was 1990, and there were two tall and beautiful women in the audience.

One was British tennis star Annabel Croft and the other her lodger Clare Staples who was working as a coat check girl at Morton's Club in London. Paul invited audience members to come up to be hypnotised. Clare leapt to her feet and so encountered a man who was to become her boyfriend, fiancé, client and benefactor for the next 23 years.

Paul's journey to fame

Paul's journey to that point had taken him from a difficult schooling at a Jesuit College where he had been written off academically because of what was probably undiagnosed dyslexia, through to working as a DJ in Top Shop, and then progressing up through the ranks as a presenter for Chiltern Radio, Capital Radio, and Radio 1.

While working as a DJ he interviewed a stage hypnotist which inspired 30 years of study into the workings of the human mind. Paul turned this learning into both a means to treat people with phobias, which he has always done without charge for thousands of individuals ranging from friends that come to him for help, and an array of celebrities, such as Ellen Degeneres, Courtney Love, Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson, Stephen Fry, David Furnish, Chris Eubank, Robbie Williams, Ryan Seacrest, Kirsty Young, David Walliams, James Corden, Russell Brand, Michael Mcintyre, Annie Lenox, and Sarah Ferguson.

The other use to which he put his hypnosis skills was entertainment, and the Paul McKenna Hypnotic Show Paul was the first British primetime television series to feature a stage hypnotist.

Paul's first book, The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna, was a spinoff and was the first of what became around 15 best selling books, which has made Paul one of the most successful non-fiction authors in the world.

Paul and Clare get it together

We must go back to the early 90's to pick up the plot line of this extraordinary story of romance and betrayal which was eventually played out in a major legal dispute which was fought both in Los Angeles and London. Paul and Clare became boyfriend and girlfriend, and she took on the role of Paul's manager, which was initially the unglamorous but essential role of dealing with Paul's fan mail, diary, travel arrangements etc. She also became his stage assistant, handing him props as part of his evermore successful stage show.

They became something of an A List couple on the celebrity scene with Paul's ever growing success as an author, TV star and guru to the stars; and Clare's ever increasing array of celebrity connections.

Clare's betrayal of Paul destroys their relationship

Paul and Clare then got engaged to the delight of the popular press in whose pages the happy couple often appeared at star studded events such as film premiers and awards ceremonies. Their engagement was however cut short in 1995 when The Sunday Mirror reported that Clare had slept with Gerhard Berger who drove for the Ferrari Formula 1 Team and whose wife Anna was pregnant at the time.

This caused acute embarrassment to Paul, and although he forgave Clare for her betrayal when she confessed it to him it destroyed the trust between them, and inevitably the engagement came to an end. What Clare did not tell Paul was that the reason why the story of her affair with Gerhard Berger had appeared in The Sunday Mirror was because she had sold them the story.

Clare moved to America, and her involvement in Paul's career became peripheral, for which she was paid either by commission or salary as an employee of one of Paul's US businesses. Paul's generosity to Clare however did not end, and after giving her half of what was in his business bank account and half the value of his house when they broke up, he went on to fund Clare's lavish lifestyle in America where she lived on a Californian ranch and rode horses which Paul bought for her.

Paul discovers that the love of his life has been his assistant for years

Then in 2013 something wonderful happened in Paul's life. He realised that Kate Davey, who had been his loyal and efficient assistant for many years, and knew him warts and all, was the love of his life - hidden in plain sight in his own office. They were married earlier this year.

Paul and Kate became engaged around the same time that Clare married a super rich American called Christopher Polk Reid, and therefore no longer needed to live on Paul's generosity. Polk Reid was the inheritor of his vast wealth, but may have supplemented it by heroin trafficking, for he has been charged more than once.

Hell hath no fury

The next chapter of this saga was the explosive telephone call when Paul told Clare of his new love for Kate, hoping that since Clare had recently got married she would be able to be pleased for him. What followed was a bitter tirade of jealous rage followed by a determination on Clare's part to take Paul to the cleaners.

Paul and Clare's financial affairs were still bound up in two American properties; a ranch to which Paul had bought for Clare, and a Hollywood mansion which Paul had bought while working in Los Angeles.

The finances of Paul and Clare's final "divorce" should have been a straightforward accounting exercise in which their investments in the two properties were totted up (Clare having contributed a small proportion of the purchase price of Paul's LA mansion) so that when they were sold the proceeds could be divided according to the amount which both Paul and Clare had invested in them. Instead it turned into a bitter and expensive legal battle fought on both sides of the Atlantic.

Enter John Grisham

All this would be a perfect setting for a John Grisham legal thriller about cut-throat high stakes litigation fought out between celebrities in the LA courts and laced with sex, drugs, and featuring good guy and bad guy clients and lawyers. That is just how it turned out, and the legal battle which ensued has come to an end not in spectacular trial fashion, but via a process which would furnish at least some decent elements of a Grisham plot.

Clare wanted their "divorce" to come with both of the US properties that she and Paul owned together along with a multi-million dollar payment from Paul. She and her lawyers threatened that if it was not met they would trash his professional and personal reputation in any legal battle that ensued.

When Paul stood his ground Clare began a claim in LA claiming full ownership of the two US properties which she had bought with Paul. A second and much bigger claim was that rather than having been Paul's personal and business manager, she had in fact been his business partner and was therefore entitled not only to half of all the money that he had earned since she had met him, but half of all that he would earn for the rest of his life; a claim which her lawyers valued at over $50 million.

The battle begins

The document which sets out a claim in the US is called a Verified Complaint. In Britain we call it the Particulars of Claim, but the purpose of both documents is to set out what the claimant wants from the legal actions, and the evidence which they are going to rely on.

In both countries those documents are open to the public and so can be a rich source copy for tabloid journalists if, as in the case of Clare's Verified Complaint, the documents are barbed with lurid allegations. Legal privilege means that they can be both made and reported with no risk of a libel action. It is therefore an opportunity to abuse the legal system and put an opponent under enormous pressure to settle a legal claim or suffer reputational damage.

Clare and her lawyers carry out their threats

Clare's Verified Complaint was laced with poisonous false allegations against Paul which she ensured were picked up by several British newspapers with the inevitable damage to his reputation.

I worked closely with Bernie Simons, Paul's excellent US lawyer because I had acted for Paul for 25 years, and known Clare almost as long as Paul had so was better placed to deal with the partnership claim which I knew was untrue. Bernie and I decided for tactical reasons to start a mirror action in the UK.

A confession and the challenge of proving that Clare was a liar

Time for a confession; as a devout Christian I not only pray for my clients every day, but when I am fighting their corner in litigation, I pray for that too. I wish I could claim that that meant that I invariably won for my clients. It does not, although in 25 years I have only lost one trial. Sometimes however things happen in cases that I conduct for clients which are hard to disassociate from the prayer factor.

Clare claimed both to have been primarily responsible for Paul's hugely successful career and was Paul's business partner (rather than manager). Although she could not produce a single document to back up her claim to be sure of winning the US and UK trials I needed to find documents which had been generated by the 25 years of work that I had done for Paul to disprove Clare's claims.
Most lawyers only keep archives for around six years; so most of the key documents that I would therefore need which went back to the mid 90's should long ago have been destroyed. I have been at my present firm (Lewis Silkin LLP) for about six years, and could not therefore expect documents still to be accessible for around the approximately 15 years previously which I needed.

The treasure hidden in the archives

With little expectation of success, I first asked my last firm what documents remained in their archives. To my astonishment I was sent several boxes of archives which I had assumed had been destroyed. Encouraged by this, I asked the firm where I had worked before that whether they still had any documents, and another consignment of boxes were sent over. These proved to be an absolute treasure-trove.

The first air-punching moment was about Clare's claim to have ghost written Paul's break-through book The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna. I found the transcript of the evidence that she had given at the trial of a libel action against the Mirror that I had won for Paul a few years before where she had said that she "had no knowledge of hypnosis, so I could not contribute in any way to the content of the book. I had never read a book on the subject or had any knowledge. A lot of it was difficult for me to understand, but I could understand what he meant and correct a sentence in terms of its sense. But that is about as much help as I was."

I found two further legal statements by Clare in litigation where she had been a witness for Paul where she described herself as his "business manager" and in which she says that she "worked for" Paul; which directly contradicted her claim to have been his business partner. That would probably have been enough but more was to come.

Documents emerge showing that Clare sold stories about friends and fellow AA members

In both the UK and the US legal systems parties to litigation must dig out and disclose relevant documents to each other. This caused Paul to discover some truly remarkable documents which were records of Clare selling stories to the British tabloids about her celebrity friends such as Elle McPherson and Courtney Love.

These gave the lie to Clare's claim to have devoted herself selflessly to building Paul's career.

Having a lucrative undeclared line in selling confidential information to newspapers about celebrities which Paul had in some cases been treating was about as destructive as a possible betrayal of Paul who according to Clare was her business partner.

In her own hand

An even more remarkable set of documents then to emerged. In her own handwriting, Clare confessed to living as a parasite, liar, thief and drug user in documents which also recorded how she had slept with numerous A List celebrities in her quest for fame.

These are just some of the startling revelations from those documents:-
"I lied about stealing his drugs...";
"I wanted a free apartment even though I don't like him".
"I kept seeing him as he was so generous...I was pretending to like him",
"I took [a well-known footballer] for a line [of coke]...I flirted when all I wanted was a line",
"I wanted the best of both worlds, security with Paul [McKenna] and sex with [someone else]",
"I would get him to drive to Palma for ice-cream and to Alcudia when he had no money...I used him for what I wanted and took advantage of his feelings [for me]".
"[I slept with a celebrity because I] wanted fame and to show off".

In the same hand - written documents she also admits to being callous and guilt-free to her victims:
"I didn't care if [she] liked him as I wanted him...I tried to turn everyone against her after that to stop him seeing her...I decided to be horrid to her."
"Didn't consider how hurt and humiliated Paul would be - and Anna [Gerhard Berger's wife] was pregnant...[Had no guilt] at all...".
"I didn't consider [a celebrity's wife's] feelings only winning [the celebrity] guilt at all".
"I ignored him in Mallorca and left him on a windsurfer to burn...I don't remember feeling guilty."
"I got pregnant. Chose yet another abusive man. I wanted to have a baby and was careless with birth control."
"[I slept with celebrity because] I wanted to show off and win over [celebrity girlfriend]...I.. wanted fame."
"I was often drunk and high when I had sex with men".

The significance of the documents

These documents were hugely significant because no US Jury or UK Judge would then believe Clare's claims to have been Paul's business partner. She also admitted in them to having not only had an affair with Formula 1 ace Gerhard Berger at a time where she was Paul's fiancé, but she then profited from that betrayal by selling the story of her affair to a Sunday newspaper - which was something of a contrast to the selfless devotion to Paul that she was claiming. This also contradicted evidence that she had given in the UK action.

The game is up for Clare and her lawyers

By the time that these documents were disclosed to Clare's lawyers the trial of her US claim was only weeks away. Clare knew that she must lose both legal actions and that if she went to trial in the UK she risked suffering the same fate as MP's Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer who were charged and subsequently jailed when key parts of their evidence were proved untrue. It was obviously time to bail of the dispute.

Clare and her lawyers throw in the towel

This led to a series of pleas by her lawyers for a mediation LA, from which Clare came away with ownership of the ranch that Paul had bought for her; and which she had been offered from the outset; and around 15% ownership in Paul's Hollywood mansion - which was the proportion of her investment in it. With tax and her vast legal costs, she came out of the litigation with a thumping loss; and in particular she had to abandon the multi-million dollar partnership claim completely from which she earned not a cent.

This comprehensive victory had however come at cost to Paul and his family and he opened up to Mail on Sunday feature writer Angella Johnson about the strain that these legal proceedings in both the US and the UK had had on his relationship with his wife, and the impact on his mother and family.

Clare and her lawyers refuse to accept defeat

Even after the action settled Clare's campaign to discredit Paul still did not abate. At the end of the Mail on Sunday article she is quoted as accusing Paul of being a liar, and refusing to accept the absolute nature of her defeat in the legal fight that she had picked with him.

Clare's lawyer Mr Weitzman had this to say; "The evidence overwhelmingly supported Clare's claims in the Los Angeles action, which is presumably why McKenna agreed to a lucrative settlement just seven weeks before the Los Angeles trial was set to begin. Paul's continuing efforts to defame and disparage Clare are as self-serving and pathetic as it gets."

The reality was that the mediation that settled the action only came after repeated request from Clare's side for settlement talks, so desperate were they to get Clare out of a trial where that was going to expose her as a liar and worse. The Mail on Sunday interview had been undertaken only after Paul had learned of Clare's efforts to get it to publish her side of the story for a fat fee.

The good guy won in the end

When it is working properly the law should achieve justice. Unfortunately it does not always do so. In some cases there is no clear cut right or wrong. In this case it was very clear cut. As a lawyer with a strong Christian faith it was especially important me to leave no stone unturned to try to make sure Paul came out on top.

Paul's guardian angel appears to have come up trumps in this case - as he has for Paul in past legal actions I have fought for him - and furnished his lawyers with the ammunition to win this legal battle. Bernie - who is a man of honour and principle - Paul and I did some hugs and high fives after the mediation. It is such a great feeling to see justice being done.

Jonathan Coad conducted the UK element of the litigation and is a partner at Lewis Silkin LLP. Follow him on Twitter; @jonathan_coad.