Tycoon loses bid to strip ex-wife of £1.8million divorce payout in toxic legal battle after she got pregnant with an embryo they froze
- Alun Cathcart took ex-wife Pamela to court over attempted conception of a child
- Cathcart claimed Pamela only received generous divorce settlement because he was unaware she secretly used frozen embryo to create a child behind his back
- High court disagreed and said embryo use had no bearing on divorce settlement
As the former head of some of Britain’s biggest companies, the multi-millionaire Alun Cathcart is a man accustomed to getting his own way when it comes to his business affairs.
When he was chairman of Selfridges, he oversaw its 2003 sale for £600 million to Canadian billionaire Galen Weston.
He also spent 30 years as European chief executive of car hire giant Avis before becoming chairman of the EMAP media group.
Personal matters, particularly in relation to his second ex-wife Pamela, have proved rather less straightforward for the 78-year-old tycoon, who retired in 2017.
Last week, it emerged that Cathcart had failed in his High Court bid to strip 66-year-old Pamela Owen of her £1.8 million divorce settlement after a row over embryos created at a fertility clinic while they were still married.
Cathcart claimed he would never have provided such a ‘generous’ settlement had he known of his ex-wife’s secret attempts to use the frozen embryos to create a second child, behind his back, after they had parted.
The judge presiding over the case, however, told him her actions had no bearing on the amount she received in the divorce.
This is a bewildering saga involving three IVF pregnancies — two of which were consented to, one of which Cathcart alleges was not — and ultimately the birth of two children.
He has accused Pamela, who lives in Horsham, West Sussex, of forging his signature on documents so she could use the embryos to assist with a second pregnancy without his knowledge.
And while his ‘wholly misconceived’ case has been thrown out of the High Court’s Family Division, with Mr Justice Mostyn describing it as ‘morally repugnant’, the Mail can reveal a furious Cathcart is now planning to pursue Pamela in the U.S. courts for £250,000.
Multi-millionaire Alun Cathcart failed in his High Court bid to strip ex-wife Pamela Owen (pictured) of her £1.8m divorce settlement after a row over embryos created at a fertility clinic
It was there the pair first attended a Californian fertility clinic in 2000, using donor eggs and Cathcart’s sperm to create several embryos, one of which resulted in the birth of a child in March 2001.
So why on earth is the respected father-of-five, who now lives in Portugal, going to such tortured lengths given the events over which he is suing took place nearly 20 years ago and the disputed pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage in 2004?
One also wonders at the wisdom of digging up the past in court, thereby spilling the innermost secrets of his private life along with those of his ex-wife.
A spokesman for the businessman told me this week: ‘Alun thinks it is wicked, egregious and completely wrong that a man who provides sperm to his wife for a child, then leaves that woman and divorces her, then discovers she used the sperm without his knowledge or consent to try and bring another child into the world.’
But what makes Cathcart’s claim somewhat baffling is the most astonishing twist of all: that more than three years after his split from Pamela, he happily agreed to donate sperm to her — behind his new wife’s back! — so she could conceive a sibling for the first child.
Three IVF Pregnancies, two children and a secret sperm donation
PREGNANCY ONE: Pamela and Alun married in August 1997. In 2000, they visited a fertility clinic, using donor eggs and Cathcart’s sperm to create several embryos, one of which resulted in the birth of a child in March 2001.
The couple split three months later, reaching a financial settlement in April 2002.
PREGNANCY TWO: In 2004, unbeknown to Alun, Pamela conceived a second child using another of the embryos but miscarried in July that year.
PREGNANCY THREE: Two months after her miscarriage, in September 2004 Alun agreed to donate sperm to her so that — using donor eggs — she could conceive a sibling for the first child.
He claims he did so as a ‘donor’ and not a ‘husband’ and therefore should not have been financially liable for the child, born in November 2005.
The difference, according to papers he filed at the High Court, is that he did this unaware that Pamela had already been secretly trying to conceive using their previously frozen embryos.
Confused? Well, according to his spokesman, legal adviser Rodney Hylton-Potts, there is a big difference between voluntarily donating sperm for an IVF embryo and using an embryo without the consent of the man who helped create it, even if the two incidents took place just months apart.
‘We aren’t just talking about the money side of this, although claiming child maintenance is part of it,’ says Hylton-Potts. ‘We’re talking about creating a human being with a father’s sperm when they’ve separated.
‘That’s a key point. She actually got pregnant with Alun’s sperm at a time when he knew nothing about it, even if she miscarried later. He was deeply, deeply hurt by that and still is.’
And, despite admitting that he willingly donated sperm on a second occasion, Cathcart says he did so as a ‘donor’ not as a ‘husband’ — and claims Pamela forged his initials on a 14-page document, making it appear he was the latter so that she could make later financial claims on him.
He alleges to have discovered the truth only after seeing documents released to him by the fertility clinic in June last year. So how on earth did this lamentable situation come to pass?
Cathcart, a trained accountant from Northern Ireland, was already chief executive of Avis Europe when he met Pamela Owen, a British Airways flight attendant.
Pamela, from Maldon, Essex, was a glamorous blonde divorcee with a £35,000 antique teddy bear collection. She and Cathcart moved in together, married in August 1997 in Bermuda and, after failing to conceive a child naturally, visited the Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles, where embryos were created using a donor egg and Cathcart’s sperm.
But three months after the birth of that child in March 2001, Cathcart walked out on his wife. According to his spokesman: ‘He realised that at that age, he didn’t want to be a father again.
‘He didn’t want to settle down like that. He admits he made a terrible mistake. He was consumed by guilt but he realised it just wasn’t the life he wanted.’
The couple divorced and reached a financial settlement in April 2002, which saw Pamela walk away with £1.8 million plus child maintenance payments for their child as well as annual payments of £15,000 towards the upbringing of their first child.
According to the spokesman: ‘Alun took the view that he’d been very generous with Pamela because he had literally left her holding the baby and felt guilty.
‘What Alun didn’t know and didn’t discover until last year is that no sooner than he was out of the door than Pamela double-backed so to speak and began to make plans and active steps to get pregnant using a batch of embryos fertilised from his sperm.’
Pictured: Alun Cathcart with his current Debbie Simmons who was kept in the dark about the legal battle Cathcart was waging against his ex-wife Pamela Owen over her divorce settlement
According to documents filed at the High Court, Pamela conceived a second child in 2004, but miscarried in July that year.
Just two months later and unaware of the second pregnancy and miscarriage, Cathcart agreed to help his ex-wife conceive again.
According to his spokesman: ‘Ms Owen approached him and said: “Look, I would like a sibling for our child. And I would like you to provide sperm.” It was a very unusual situation.
‘She pleaded with him so he agreed for her sake, but only as a donor, not as a husband or partner.’
The sting in the tail was Cathcart’s insistence he wanted nothing to do with the second child and that Pamela should not claim extra child maintenance.
He insisted she provide a £100,000 ‘bond’ to stand as security against any further claims against him.
But why, if he didn’t trust his ex-wife, did Cathcart agree to what was described in court as a ‘morally repugnant’ contract?
According to Hylton-Potts: ‘Alun felt guilty about having left her holding the baby.’
Pamela agreed to his terms and, after Alun donated more sperm in London, she underwent IVF at the same Californian clinic. She gave birth to a second child in November 2005.
But what of Alun’s poor, long-suffering third wife, glamorous blonde businesswoman Debbie Simmons? How on earth did she react when she discovered what her husband had been up to.
‘He didn’t tell Debbie at first,’ explains Hylton-Potts. ‘She eventually found out from all the legal documents that were coming in the post and she was not best pleased. She felt he had kept hidden something intimate and important.
‘She thought no worse of him, but she wasn’t happy. She’s long since forgiven him. She loves him to this day and they’re still together.’
So far, so good, but according to legal documents, both children suffered from ‘profound learning difficulties’, something else that Cathcart questions.
Unable to cope financially, Pamela went back to court in 2008 and 2011 seeking further payments from him. As a result, the businessman was forced to up his payments to £20,000 for each child, plus the cost of their private school fees.
‘It was something that enraged him,’ says Hylton-Potts. ‘He hated it. He thought it was completely wrong, but the law is the law, you can never exclude the rights of children.’
Amid this toxic atmosphere, Cathcart and his third wife —despite having no relationship with either child — decided that both had a right to know the truth about their parentage and that they had been conceived from donor eggs and Pamela was not their biological mother.
An act of vengeance, surely? Not so, says Hylton-Potts, who claims the desire to tell the children had nothing to do with Cathcart’s anger over the payments.
‘Rightly or wrongly, these children are Alun’s,’ he says. ‘He therefore took a view that they should be told about their parentage and how they were created. Ms Owen disagreed.’
Indeed, Pamela took out an injunction preventing the couple from revealing the truth to the children or having any contact with them until they were 18.
Cathcart retaliated with further action. In the end, Pamela pre-empted him by telling both children about the circumstances of their birth in April 2020.
Cathcart’s next move, just a month later, was to seek proof he was definitely the biological father of the second child. It was the release of documents from the clinic in California in May last year that revealed to him Pamela’s second conception.
He also alleges fraud in relation to the third pregnancy, claiming she again forged his initials to make it appear that he had agreed to donate sperm as a husband, making him financially liable for the child.
Believing he had grounds to claim back some of the divorce settlement, he took Pamela to the High Court claiming he was a victim of fraud and asking for previous financial orders to be set aside.
Mr Justice Mostyn, however, said he was ‘wholly satisfied’ that ‘there was no fraud on any occasion’. He added that ‘even if I am wrong’, Pamela’s divorce settlement would have been unaffected.
Referring to Cathcart’s so-called ‘incredibly generous’ settlement in his final judgment last month, he said: ‘I would not describe it in that way. It looks very conventional to me.’
Describing the fraud allegations as ‘implausible’, he added: ‘This course of conduct by the husband makes his subsequent complaints that the wife kept quiet about an attempt to achieve the very end to which he later agreed extremely difficult to understand.’
He said the allegation of forgery in relation to the birth of the second child was ‘an abuse of the court’s process’ given Cathcart ‘accepts he fully freely entered into’ the conception. Cathcart’s case, he concluded, was ‘totally without merit’. According to Hylton-Potts, Cathcart is ‘bewildered’ by the outcome.
‘The judge took a view that Alun should have stopped this years ago and painted a picture of a bitter tycoon who should really stop it. But Alun makes no apology whatsoever for bringing this case to the High Court.
‘He still believes the divorce settlement was obtained by fraud, he still believes that Ms Owen forged his name on documents in California to trick the clinic into reusing his sperm. He knows she forged his signature because he didn’t sign himself.’
So what is it that Cathcart now wants given that much of these ongoings are all water under the bridge?
Tragically, the eldest child died last year in their late teens, but this devastating event appears to have had no impact at all on Cathcart’s determination to pursue Pamela through the courts.
‘He wants money back from Pamela,’ says Hylton-Potts. ‘He believes it is wholly wrong for Ms Owen to keep the money she has had over the years.
‘He’s a wealthy man so he’ll probably give it to charity. It’s a symbolic gesture. He feels a wrong has been done and must be righted.’
Cathcart has now hired a team of fertility lawyers in California with a view to launching a civil claim at the Los Angeles Superior Court for the ‘unauthorised and fraudulent use of embryos’ created using his sperm.
A legal letter seen by this newspaper accuses Pamela of forging Cathcart’s signature on medical consent forms.
A spokesperson for Pamela’s solicitor said she did not wish to comment.
Two decades on, and with no end in sight to this repugnant legal battle, it seems hell hath no fury like a multi-millionaire businessman who believes himself scorned by an ex-wife.
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