Frederick, 85, and his daughter Amanda claimed Sir David’s three sons were “parties” to the secret recording of their private conversations in the conservatory of the hotel, which the Barclays own.
The high court heard yesterday that the children of Sir David and Sir Frederick are in a serious disagreement about the family trust, and the quarrel has “pitched cousin against cousin”.
Frederick, 85, and his daughter are bringing legal action in which they allege breach of confidence, breach of data protection laws, and misuse of private information, against four relatives: Alistair, Aidan, Howard, Aidan’s son Andrew, and a fifth figure Philip Peters, who has a board position within the Barclay group of companies.
The ‘bug’ was only rumbled in January when Alistair was reportedly filmed handling the device in the conservatory. It is not yet clear how long before its discovery the bug had been live.
In an exercise of flare seemingly designed to help screenwriters draw inspiration, Desmond Browne QC, representing father and daughter, said: “We all remember Tolstoy saying ‘each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’. Here, the children…have been at odds…concerning the family trusts, and cousin, sadly, has been pitched against cousin.’
Speaking to Mr Justice Warby, he went on: “It is alleged that the defendants have surreptitiously recorded the conversations of Sir Frederick and his daughter Amanda, both between themselves and with others, over a period of months.”
He added: “The defendants knew the conversations were private and confidential, but they nevertheless recorded them, commissioned transcripts and then conducted discussions about them.
“The matter came to light when the first defendant, initially the only defendant, Alistair Barclay, was filmed late on the night of January 13, handling the bug placed in the conservatory at the Ritz, which was known to be often used by Sir Frederick. I gather it was somewhere he could go to smoke a cigar.”
Browne requested that the court assert a non-disclosure order which would prevent the defendants from disseminating the contents of the recordings.
On the other side, Heather Rogers QC, said her clients (which include all five defendants) would have been able to secure a lot of information even without the recordings, and that despite “ample opportunity”, there was “no evidence of dissemination”.
Yesterday was the first time the previously private hearings were allowed by the judge to be made public.
The Barclays have interests in media, hotels and retail, including The Daily Telegraph, the Ritz and Shop Direct, in a business empire worth billions.