Family’s £2.5m fight over spoils of the Sherlock Holmes Museum
Sherlock Holmes Museum was set up close to Marylebone Station in 1989
Businessman John Aidiniantz and his siblings have clocked up over 100 court appearances and racked up more than £2.5m in costs and court orders in an epic ten-year feud, sparked by a row over the spoils of the “goldmine” museum at 221B Baker Street.
The museum, set up in 1989, was the brainchild of Mr Aidiniantz and has brought in millions, attracting hordes of tourists keen to see its “gas-lit world of London’s iconic detective and his Victorian surroundings.”
He worked alongside his siblings, Linda and Stephen Riley, and Jenny Decoteau in it over the years, but for the last decade the family have been locked in a “poisonous” feud over money, property and the care of their elderly mum.
Now John and his company Rollerteam Ltd, which owns the museum, are fighting a new battle with Stephen, 59, claiming he has no right to carry on living in their late mum’s £1m former house in Battersea, which has been his home for 25 years.
But vulnerable Stephen and his sister Linda, 60, claim he cannot be forced out of the house because he was promised it as a “home for life” when it was bought back in 1997.
The London court that the Sherlock Holmes Museum was set up close to Marylebone Station in 1989, having been the brainchild of John Aidiniantz, 66.
It proved highly successful – with the court being told this week it is “a goldmine”.
Although other family members have in the past been involved, Mr Aidiniantz is currently the sole director of the company which owns it, Rollerteam Ltd.
In 1997, a house in Parkgate Road, Battersea, south London, was purchased in Linda’s name, intended to be a home for their mum, Grace Aidiniantz, and vulnerable younger brother, Stephen.
But the family was torn apart in 2012 when the relationship between John and the rest “collapsed in a welter of bad feelings and cross-allegations,” Linda’s barrister Cheryl Jones told the court.
It ultimately resulted in a deluge of court cases, with the family arguing over £1.8m worth of takings from the museum, ownership and occupancy of various properties and the care of their elderly mum, Grace.
The fight has variously been described by judges who have dealt with it as “poisonous,” “lamentable” and “sad” – with “bitterness and contempt” between various members of the family.
Last week, the court heard that, in 2013, the family had met up at Grace and Stephen’s house in a bid to settle their differences and bring an end to the feud, signing a consent order and declaration of trust.
The agreement resulted in John being accepted as the sole owner of the museum company.
He promised Linda and Jenny, 62, would each get £1m each, while the Battersea house was put into a trust for the benefit of his company, with Grace and Stephen still living there.
But Ms Jones said that was not the end of the fight, which has since spiraled through the courts with allegations and counter-allegations.
In the latest round of the battle, Rollerteam and John last week took Linda and Stephen to court again, arguing that Stephen has no right to continue living in the house, which should be handed to John’s company with “vacant possession.”
Linda, who as trustee would be responsible for the transfer, does not oppose it in principle, but said she could not kick Stephen out, because he had been promised years ago that it was his “home for life.”
And Stephen himself agreed, telling the judge that his brother John and other family members had promised him repeatedly before the falling out that he would always have a home at Parkgate Road.
Cross-examining Stephen in the witness box, Stephanie Varron, for Rollerteam and John, alleged that he had known since the settlement agreement in 2013 that he could have to move out.
“The deal was that from April 2013 you no longer had a right to stay at Parkgate Road and that Linda would provide your accommodation in the future,” she put to him.
“You could stay as long as your mother was living there, but she was getting on in years.”
But Stephen replied: “There was no agreement that I was only going to stay at Parkgate Road until my mum died – it would be ridiculous for me to say yes to that.
“I wasn’t the black sheep of the family. Jenny and Linda had got a million. I didn’t get a million because I was told I would be ‘alright for life’.”
Linda’s barrister said that, under the terms of their agreement, her brother’s company was supposed to reimburse her for mortgage payments and other outgoings on the house.
But she had not received money she is owed, with the only payments she has ever received being ordered by judges, and would face “financial disaster” if she was forced to sell the house at a low price as she is responsible for the mortgage.
She said Linda would not be doing her duty as trustee if she were to evict Stephen, due to the fact that she honestly believes he has a right to stay.
“It’s quite clear that what was at the forefront of her mind was a concern about Stephen’s position,” she said.
“She believed and continues to believe that Stephen has a right to live there. That has been her focus.”
She said Linda just wants the family row to end, having grown “tired” during a dispute which Ms Jones claimed was characterised by John’s “vindictiveness.”
“She has sought to sort this out. She is tired. She doesn’t resist a sale and never has done in these proceedings.
“She fully accepts Stephen’s position will be decided by this court.”
Claiming John was “manipulative,” she added: “There is a very unpleasant undertone in these proceedings of vindictiveness, a wish to punish, and a wish to gain an advantage.”
For Stephen, barrister Mark Dencer claimed John and previous directors of Rollerteam had known all along that Stephen had a right to stay in the house.
The 2013 trust would have required “very clear wording” if it was to go back on the promise and require Stephen’s eviction, he said.
“What John was getting was a goldmine,” he told the judge.”
“It would be surprising if the deal was that Linda gets a million, Jenny gets a million and Stephen not only doesn’t get anything, but actually loses the one thing he does have, which is his home.”
And Linda, a publisher, told the judge that she wants the family row resolved because “enough is enough.”
The court heard the parties will have one more attempt to transfer the house with Stephen still in it, before Deputy Master Bowles decides whether he has a right to stay there.
The judge, who has now reserved his decision on whether Stephen has any right to stay until a later date, said: “One thing is quite clear: Stephen is not going to go unless he is carried out.”
The long-running court feud has resulted in orders for payments from various members of the family totalling at least £2m, while their lawyers’ bills have been astronomical.
A Court of Protection fight over Grace’s care and finances before she died ran up legal bills totalling £270,000 alone, while another case in 2015 ended up in costs orders for more than £250,000 on just one side of the row.
In 2015, judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson took the rare move of refusing the family anonymity in the Court of Protection, pointing out that it was in the public interest for people to know how much they had by then spent on their fight.