Kathleen Stark v Warren Walker
13 Mar 2020
Former actress and royal love-interest Kathleen ‘Koo’ Stark has lost her latest multi-million pound claim against Warren Walker, the father of her child, with whom she has been litigating since 2000.
Ms Stark and Mr Walker began a relationship in 1995 and conceived a child, who was born in 1997. Ms Stark alleged that they had been engaged several times, and that Mr Walker had cancelled one wedding at only 10 days’ notice.
Ms Stark claimed that in September 1997 Mr Walker had made a contract with her by which he promised to pay her £50,000 per annum, index-linked for inflation, plus all of her rent and household expenses, for the remainder of her life. The document on which the promise was written stated that it was ‘more than any legal obligation [Mr Walker] is eligible for but he does this out of kindness and love and guarantees the amount’.
Ms Stark and Mr Walker soon fell out over access to the Child and in 2000 Ms Stark flew to Florida and commenced the first of many claims. She subsequently brought proceedings in New York claiming roughly $39 million, which were summarily dismissed. Mr Walker brought Hague proceedings for the return of the child from Florida. When those proceedings were settled, the settlement agreement, alongside a host of provisions for the maintenance of the child, included the following clause: “Walker will pay Ms Stark 200,000 pounds for the purpose of securing housing in the United Kingdom”.
There then followed 13 years of bitterly-contested proceedings in the Family Division pursuant to the Children Act 1989. Those proceedings were in private and no evidence or judgments from them can be reported, but they formed a substantial part of the evidence at trial. Ms Stark was made bankrupt in 2011.
After the conclusion of the Family proceedings, in 2014 Ms Stark served a statutory demand on Mr Walker claiming £200,000 due under the Florida settlement agreement. She then issued proceedings in the Chancery Division also claiming declarations that the 1997 contract was still binding.
The trial took place before David Halpern QC in January 2020. Giving Judgment, he found Ms Stark to be ‘both evasive and combative … any of the many inconsistencies between her witness statement and the evidence … were blamed on the various lawyers who had acted for her over the last 25 years’. He found that Ms Stark was not a witness of truth. The trial judge was also critical of Mr Walker’s evidence.
The trial judge found that the 1997 promise was not supported by consideration; Mr Walker had written it with the appearance of formality in order to gain access to his child, but it was not an enforceable contract.
As for the Florida settlement agreement, the deputy Judge found that the agreement was not, properly construed, for Ms Stark’s personal benefit, but for the benefit of the child. It was therefore an agreement which the Family Court had jurisdiction to vary under the Children Act 1989.
Following the receipt of the draft judgment, Ms Stark made an application for the judgment to be completely anonymised to remove any details by which she could be identified, claiming that her daughter’s and her own safety would be put at risk by being identified. The Judge rejected the application: the child was now an adult, and her identity had been known to the press since her birth, thanks to her mother giving interviews to tabloid magazines. The proceedings had been issued in public and listed for an open trial; the evidence regarding the child herself was now 17 years old and not prejudicial.
Ms Stark made an urgent application to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal the decision to make the judgment public; the Court of Appeal refused permission.
This was the latest in an extraordinary string of lawsuits across five different courts over two decades. Sifting through the evidence from dozens of Family Division hearings, New York proceedings and Hague convention proceedings in Florida to build a case took patience and forensic attention to detail. Ultimately, as with so many cases, it all turned on the oral evidence and cross-examination, and the demolition of Ms Stark’s credibility was key to Mr Walker’s success.
Aidan Briggs represented Mr Walker and was instructed by Tristan Benson of Tollers LLP