One of the Midlands’ best-known entrepreneurs is “dependent” on his “hobby farmer” wife – although she almost never makes a profit – according to a court ruling.
Denys Shortt, whose Stratford-based firm DCS Group turns over more than £180 million, lives with his wife, Debbie, near the picturesque Cotswolds village of Broadway.
Their home at Buckland Manor Farm enjoys some of the best views in the area and is home to Mrs Shortt’s organic herd of pedigree Belted Galloway cattle.
The couple have been living the dream there since 1994 – however, a planning dispute has been an irritating fly in their ointment for decades.
Under a planning covenant issued in 1975, Buckland Manor Farm can only be lived in by local agricultural workers and their “dependants”.
Now, an Appeal Court decision means the couple’s right to live in their beloved home depends entirely on Mrs Shortt’s farming – not on her husband’s millions. Although it is Mr Shortt’s business acumen which funds the family’s lifestyle, he is as dependent on his wife as she is on him, the court ruled.
While her husband is a stellar earner, Mrs Shortt has consistently lost money on her farming business, which was described as “effectively a hobby farm”.
The couple argued that, as Mrs Shortt is financially reliant on her husband, rather than the other way round, he cannot be viewed as her “dependant”.
If that was right, it would mean that Mr Shortt and the couple’s two grown-up children had been living at Buckland Manor Farm in breach of the planning condition.
Having done so for more than 10 years, the family’s lawyers argued the condition had lapsed and the family was “immune” to any attempt to enforce it.
And that meant they could stay in their home regardless of whether Buckland Manor Farm’s connection to agriculture was broken .
Those arguments, however, cut no ice with Tewkesbury Borough Council, nor with a government planning inspector, nor with a High Court judge last year.
Now Mr and Mrs Shortt’s legal campaign has finally finished in the Court of Appeal – where top judges ruled that Mr Shortt is indeed his wife’s “dependant”.
Citing a baby’s total need for its nursing mother, Lord Justice Richards said that “dependency” need not be financial but can be emotional as well.
The dependency of husbands and wives on each other is mutual and to argue otherwise involved “the tail wagging the dog”, the judge said.
Mrs Shortt certainly fitted the description of “a person employed in agriculture”, even though her farming business “operated at a financial loss”, he added.
The ruling means the agricultural occupancy condition remains in force and the Shortts must comply with it if they want to stay.
Any buyer of Buckland Manor Farm will also be bound by the condition – a factor which is bound to severely affect its value.
Mr Shortt founded the DCS Group, the UK’s largest seller and distributor of health, beauty and household brands and was made OBE in 2013.
He also owns two successful software companies.