/ 17 March 2008

Beatle’s ex awarded £24,3m in divorce

A triumphant Heather Mills said on Monday she had secured the future for herself and her daughter with a court awarding her a £24,3-million (about R398,5-million) settlement in her divorce from former Beatle Paul McCartney.

A document released by the Family Court said the judge awarded Mills a lump sum of £16,5-million plus the assets she currently holds worth £7,8-million.

”I’m so, so happy with this,” Mills said at an impromptu news conference on the steps of the Royal Courts of Justice after the closed hearing. ”I’m so glad it’s over.

”It was an incredible result in the end to secure mine and my daughter’s future and that of all the charities that I obviously plan on helping and making a difference with — because you know it has been my life for 20 years.”

While pleased with the financial settlement, Mills intends to appeal against the decision to publish the full judgement, including details concerning the couple’s four-year-old daughter, Beatrice. Only a summary of the judgement was released on Monday.

McCartney (65) and Mills (40) went to court last month to decide on Mills’s share of his fortune, which had been estimated at as much as £825-million (about R13,5-billion).

Judge Hugh Bennett, however, found that the total value of McCartney’s assets, including his business assets, was about £400-million. He said there was no evidence to support the widely published figure that was more than twice as high.

Mills said the settlement vindicated her decision to fire her lawyers. The legal fees, she said, instead ”could easily go to charity”.

”Obviously the court do not want a litigant in person to do well, it’s against everything that they ever wish, so when they write the judgement up they’re never going to make it look in favour,” she said.

The settlement was higher than what McCartney had said his estranged wife should receive — £15,8-million, including her own assets. Mills, however, had sought almost £125-million. ”Paul was offering a lot less” than what was awarded, she said.

Harsh words

She had harsh words for McCartney’s lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, who is well known for representing Prince Charles in his divorce from Princess Diana.

”She has called me many, many names before even meeting me when I was in a wheelchair,” said Mills, a former model whose left leg was amputated below the knee after a 1993 motorcycle accident.

The court ruled that the couple’s daughter should receive a ”periodical payments order” of £35 000 a year. On top of that, McCartney will pay for the child’s nanny and school fees.

The settlement has been a long time coming for the couple, who separated two years ago, after four years of marriage. At the time they said the parting was ”amicable” and insisted ”both of us still care about each other very much”. But the split has grown fractious since McCartney filed for divorce alleging his wife’s ”unreasonable behaviour”.

Mills claimed McCartney failed to protect her and their daughter from slander, death threats and other abuse, and accused the media of persecuting her. In November, Mills said she had been ”treated worse than a murderer or a paedophile”, despite years of work for land mine victims and animal welfare charities.

When the couple and their lawyers appeared for a six-day hearing last month, photographers craned to catch a glimpse of them entering the grand, neo-Gothic court building. Reporters huddled outside the courtroom door, but few details emerged.

Legal experts said the fact that the couple had a child would have been taken into account — but so would the relative brevity of the marriage and the fact that most of McCartney’s wealth was generated beforehand.

McCartney met Mills in 1999, the year after the death from breast cancer of his first wife, Linda. That marriage was one of rock’s most enduring unions, and produced three children, including fashion designer Stella McCartney.

Mills and McCartney married at an Irish castle in June 2002, amid rumours the former Beatle’s children disapproved of their new stepmother. The couple’s daughter was born the following year. — Sapa-AP