A new age traveller who became a wealthy wind farm tycoon was ‘abusive’ to his ex-wife when she asked for maintenance payments, a court has heard.
Kathleen Wyatt said she feared Dale Vince would ‘become violent’ when she went to him begging for cash after being left on benefits with two children.
She to court 22 years after they divorced, claiming he rendered her destitute while he grew his business.
The landmark case, which has now reached the Supreme Court, could have far-reaching consequences for men who have become rich after a divorce.
Mr Vince left school at 15 and was part of a ‘Peace Convoy’ of hippies travelling around southwest England in the 1980s.
The pair married in 1981 when they were both penniless travellers, living largely on state benefits.
After their divorce in 1992, Mr Vince lived in an old ambulance he powered with a home-made wind turbine made from recycled materials.
A strict vegan with shaggy hair and an earring, he was described in the Court of Appeal as ‘the most improbable candidate for affluence’.
But in 1995, Mr Vince founded Ecotricity, which is now one of the UK’s biggest green energy companies and led to him being awarded OBE in 2004.
Now worth an estimated £107 million, he owns a sports car and lives in the £3million 18th century Rodborough Fort, near Stroud, Gloucestershire, with his new wife and their five-year-old son.
He also owns a football club, Gloucestershire’s Forest Green Rovers where he has banned red meat, and installed an organic football pitch, avoiding the use of chemicals and cut by a solar-powered lawnmower.
Meanwhile Miss Wyatt, 55, says she is so poor that she has been travelling to hearings from her home in Monmouthshire by bus – and has been sleeping in a bus station.
Her claim for maintenance was struck out by the Court of Appeal, but her lawyers are now challenging this decision in the Supreme Court.
If she is successful, it will lead to a full hearing before a family judge who will decide whether any financial settlement is due.
Yesterday, she said in statement read out to the court that she had waited this long to make her claim because she was afraid of her ex-husband.
When they divorced, she was left to care for the couple’s young son and her daughter from a previous relationship, who Mr Vince treated as his own during their marriage.
She said she had gone to Mr Vince in the early 1990s ‘desperate’ for money but had been ‘fobbed off’.
She said: ‘He said he could not help because his business was too much of a strain on his resources. I didn’t know what to do so in 1995 I contacted the Child Support Agency (CSA).’
The CSA then began investigating the finances of Mr Vince, prompting him to become ‘abusive’, according to his ex-wife.
She added: ‘I couldn’t cope with the stress caused by him. I asked them to stop the assessment because I feared Dale would become violent towards me.’
The court heard Mr Vince’s finances improved ‘significantly’ after 1997 and continued to grow until the present day.
He was worth an estimated £57 million in 2012, which rose to £107 million according to the latest figures.
Philip Cayford QC, for Miss Wyatt, said: ‘We have no problem with that. It’s a remarkable story. The issue is whether the wife is entitled to a penny of that or not.
‘All the way through the 1990s and 2000s, she was clearly asking for assistance. It’s a sorry state that… in 2007 when the business was clearly flying and Mr Vince had had his OBE for three years, she wasn’t receiving a penny, and was having to borrow money from her son.’
Last year, senior family judge Lord Justice Thorpe said she had left her claim – amounting to around £100,000 for every year since she divorced him in 1992 – far too late.
But Mr Cayford said yesterday: ‘This case should not have been struck out. We say the Court of Appeal, with the greatest respect, got this wrong.’
The court heard Miss Wyatt found a new partner in 1993 and had two more children with him – but that he subsequently did not finance the family either.
Miss Wyatt was able to make the claim against Mr Vince because in family law cases, unlike in the civil courts, there is no time limit for a former spouse to bring a financial lawsuit.
Neither kept any documents from their divorce and the solicitors’ files have long since been shredded.
Davina Katz, Mr Vince’s solicitor and head of the family division at Schillings, said the case was significant because those who divorced young often did not resolve financial settlements if there was little wealth to share at the time.
She told the Financial Times: ‘There are plenty of people who separated decades ago but have not got divorced or if they did get divorced at the time did not deal with financial claims and so this could have profound implications.’
The case, which is being heard by a panel of five judges led by Britain’s most senior female judge Lady Hale, is expected to conclude tomorrow.