Back then he was a penniless hippy with no income and no apparent prospect of success.
But the winds of change transformed Dale Vince from a nomadic New Age traveller to the multi- millionaire head of one of Britain’s biggest green energy companies.
It’s just that they didn’t blow quite so favourably for his ex-wife, whom he divorced without being ordered to pay maintenance.
So yesterday Kathleen Wyatt faced the 51-year-old wind farm entrepreneur across a courtroom over a claim for £2million she says she is owed – more than 20 years after they parted.
Mr Vince was appealing after the High Court in London refused to dismiss the claim, and ordered him to pay £125,000 legal costs.
Yesterday the Civil Appeal Court heard Miss Wyatt alleged she was treated ‘with contempt’ by her ex-husband while he drove increasingly expensive cars and moved into a £3million, 18th-century fort in Gloucestershire.
Meanwhile she had to struggle through financial difficulties to raise their son and her other children – as Mr Vince’s once-fledgling company developed into Ecotricity, currently a massive player in the UK’s eco energy sector.
Now judges must decide whether to allow the financial claim, back Mr Vince’s fight to have it dismissed or, as Lord Justice Jackson put it yesterday, declare it ‘so old and stale’ that it should not be allowed to proceed.
Miss Wyatt, a former aid worker with a daughter from a previous relationship, met Mr Vince in 1981 and they had a son, Dane, two years later.
The court heard Mr Vince took up a ‘nomadic’ existence as a New Age traveller when he and Miss Wyatt, according to Mr Vince, separated in 1984.
He disputed Miss Wyatt’s claims that the pair repeatedly rekindled their relationship until the early Nineties.
His barrister Martin Pointer QC told the Civil Appeal Court that Mr Vince was not ordered to pay any maintenance as he was broke at the time and living on housing benefit.
In 1992, when the couple divorced, Mr Vince ‘had a nascent business but no income at all’, he said.
In 1996 he had made a ‘full disclosure’ of his financial position to the Child Support Agency, Mr Pointer said.
‘From a modest beginning, with the creation of a wind turbine to power a trailer in which he and his new partner were living, the business developed into a considerable enterprise.’
Miss Wyatt started a new relationship in 1993 and had two more children, although she did not remarry. She later discovered her ex-husband’s business was flourishing.
But Philip Cayford QC, representing her, said Mr Vince provided only three very old cars and ‘sporadic pocket money’ for his son and stepdaughter until 2001.
The barrister said between 1996 and 1997 he achieved a ‘nil assessment’ for contributions by the Child Support Agency despite his ‘apparent wealth’.
He said Miss Wyatt, now 53 and living in Monmouthshire in south-east Wales, learned Mr Vince’s business was taking off in the mid-Nineties and claimed that ‘the children had been pressured by him not to inform her of his newly acquired wealth’.
The QC added: ‘Miss Wyatt repeatedly asked for financial assistance and whether he was going to pay the children more than just pocket money as he was building up his business.
‘He treated her with contempt. He said if she could not afford to maintain the children, they could live with him.’ Mr Cayford said: ‘This is a lady who has had it financially very difficult.
‘She came to court today by getting up early to use the bus, and sleeping in the bus station. The contrast between the two [her and Mr Vince] is extreme.’
The court reserved judgement on the appeal. If it fails, the maintenance claim is expected to be heard by a family judge in June.
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