The matriarch of a multimillion-pound specs empire has won a court fight with her son’s art gallery boss ex, over claims she refused to pay back £200,000 after he called her a ‘bloody cow’ during a row.
Hannelore Matt, co-founder of one of Germany‘s biggest eyewear chains, and her son Andreas Matt’s Kent-based partner, Liana Fox, had been as close as mother and daughter, a court heard.
But when the couple split, Mrs Fox, 61, refused to pay back nearly £200,000 which 87-year-old Mrs Matt had handed to her to buy a house for all three to use in England.
Suing her for return of the money, she said Mrs Fox – who formerly ran a sculpture gallery in Canterbury – refused to pay because she took exception at being called a ‘bloody cow’ by Andreas during a row.
But Mrs Fox, of Ashford, in Kent, claimed the money was hers, as it had been in part payment towards massive debts run up by Andreas Matt during their relationship.
Hannelore Matt, pictured outside London County Court with her son Andreas, has won a court fight with his ex
Liana Fox, pictured outside court, has been told by a judge to pay Ms Matt back the £200,000 she lent her to buy a property in England
After a week-long trial at Central London County Court, Judge Mark Raeside KC dismissed Mrs Fox’s debt claim as ‘implausible’ and ordered her to hand back the money she had been given.
Ruling, he said Mrs Matt had considered Mrs Fox ‘as close as a daughter’ and trusted her enough to hand her the money towards buying a cottage in the Kent countryside for the family.
But the purchase never happened and so Mrs Fox would have to hand back every penny of it, as well as interest, he said.
The trial heard Mrs Matt built family business Optik Matt – which sells glasses, contact lenses, frames, sunglasses and hearing aids – from humble beginnings, after founding it with her husband Bernard Matt in 1955.
It is now one of Germany’s top five eyewear chains, with 82 shops, 450 employees and a multimillion-pound turnover, and is still run as a family business by three of Mrs Matt’s children.
Mrs Fox and Andreas started a relationship as teenagers in the 1970s, but parted, with Mrs Fox marrying in England and Andreas working for the family business in Regensburg, Germany.
Mrs Fox had a son with her husband Nigel, but was widowed in 2009, before resuming her relationship with Andreas the following year.
They had an official engagement in Malta, with a 15,000 euro ring bought for Mrs Fox in 2014.
But Andreas found himself in trouble with the police and in 2018 was convicted and later jailed for embezzlement involving ‘Euro 596,000 provided to him by a third party investor,’ said his mum’s barrister Jeff Hardman.
Ashamed at his fall from grace, Andreas wanted to move to England and his mum advanced 225,000 euros to Mrs Fox towards jointly purchasing a property in the Kent countryside, he continued.
However, the purchase never took place and, after they split in 2020, his mum then demanded the money be repaid, said the barrister.
He told the judge that a series of texts had been sent by Andreas, asking for his mum’s money back, to which Mrs Fox had said she could not repay it.
And when asked why she could not return the cash, Mrs Fox responded: ‘Bloody cows don’t answer text messages…To the people who call them bloody cows. No one in my whole life has ever called me that.’
He said Mrs Matt made 12 separate demands for payment before Mrs Fox abandoned her previous excuses and claimed that the money was to cover Andreas’ debts.
‘She has adopted and discarded arguments to suit her narrative, and has gone to extraordinary lengths to portray Mrs Matt’s son as some sort of impecunious grifter,’ he argued.
Defending the claim, Mrs Fox insisted that she had been owed hundreds of thousands of pounds, which she had loaned to Andreas during their relationship.
Much of the money had gone on ‘extravagant’ boy toys, including a Mercedes car, a camper van and a three wheeled flying trike, she said.
Her barrister, Christopher Snell, said Andreas’ earlier conviction arose from his relationship with a ‘lady of means’ and his then ’embezzling her money,’ suggesting he had ‘exhibited a similar pattern of behaviour in relation to Mrs Fox.’
Suing her for return of the money, Ms Matt (pictured with her son outside court) said Mrs Fox refused to pay because she took exception at being called a ‘bloody cow’ by Andreas during a row
‘Mrs Fox was – throughout the time of her relationship with Andreas – a lady of means,’ he said.
‘She had inherited significant wealth following her husband’s sad demise from cancer. She had no need to borrow money from Mrs Matt – or any other person – in order to purchase a property in the United Kingdom.
‘The extent of her means is clear from the amount of money that she expended during the course of her relationship with Andreas, which included…her paying his legal bills during his criminal trial, paying bail money on his behalf, and loaning him sizeable sums of money in order to make extravagant purchases.’
Giving judgment at the end of the trial, Judge Raeside said Mrs Fox had ‘convinced herself’ that her claim that the money was to repay debts was true.
She had put forward a detailed list of sums she said she was owed, but that had been compiled after the end of the relationship and not at the time the 225,000 euros was paid, he said.
He found that the 225,000 euros had been entrusted by Mrs Matt to Mrs Fox, who was ‘as close as a daughter,’ to put towards a house in England ‘no doubt for the enjoyment and use of all three of them.’
‘I am quite satisfied and find as a matter of fact, on the balance of probabilities, that the 225,000 euros paid to Mrs Fox by Mrs Matt was not in respect of part payment of debts owed by Andreas Matt to Mrs Fox,’ he said.
‘On balance, the view I have formed is that it was the mutual intention of both Mrs Matt and Mrs Fox that this large payment was for the purpose of purchase of a house.
‘I am equally satisfied that Mrs Fox knew about this. That is the plausible explanation, rather than the quite implausible case put forward by Mrs Fox..’
He ordered that the 225,000 euros be repaid, along with interest. As the loser, Mrs Fox will also pay the lawyers’ bills for the trial, which have not yet been quantified.