Duke granted gossip ban on ex- maid services

By Sue Clough Courts Correspondent12:01AM BST 23 Aug 2002
The Duke of Westminster, one of Britain’s wealthiest men, yesterday won a High Court injunction banning his former maid services from revealing details of his private life.

Frances Hewson, 51, earned £14,000 a year as the duke’s maid services at Eaton Hall, his country seat in Cheshire, until her dismissal last October. Neither party was in court for the hearing.

Tom Croxford, for the duke, told Mr Justice Stanley Burnton that “my client comes somewhat reluctantly to seek an injunction”. But recent newspaper articles featuring Mrs Hewson showed that she was thinking of writing a book or magazine articles about her time in the duke’s employ.

This would breach the confidentiality terms of her contract of employment and a verbal undertaking she had given earlier this year, said Mr Croxford.

Granting the injunction, the judge gave leave for Mrs Hewson, who was not represented, to apply to have it varied or discharged.

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The duke, 50, whose wealth is estimated at £4 billion, authorised Mrs Hewson’s dismissal after complaints from other members of his staff about “malicious gossip”. She was sacked for gross misconduct after her activities caused “discontent and disharmony” below stairs.

After her dismissal Mrs Hewson, who had worked for the duke for seven years, lost her grace and favour cottage on the 11,000-acre estate. Earlier this month an employment tribunal in Liverpool unanimously ruled against her claim for unfair dismissal.

Mrs Hewson now works as a night cleaner on a business estate. She turned down an offer of £5,000 from the duke’s lawyers to settle the case before it went to the tribunal, and since losing the case has reportedly been offering to reveal details of the Westminster’s private lives to newspapers for money.

Mrs Hewson, a mother of two, was quoted as saying: “I have been branded as a gossip, so I might as well behave as one. This is a David and Goliath situation. It’s not me but I don’t feel I have much of a choice.”

She has already revealed that Natalia, the duke’s wife, ordered staff to position lavatory paper in the stately home’s 20 en suite bathrooms so that only two sheets were hanging down. Furniture in the grand drawing room had to be in a precise line with the obelisk in the courtyard, and bed linen in all the rooms had to be folded so that the “W” monogram on the sheets was not creased. Upstairs rooms had to be cleaned clockwise, claimed Mrs Hewson.

Before the High Court hearing a spokesman for the Grosvenor Estate said: “We have reminded her of her obligations of confidentiality in her contract of employment.

“The Grosvenor family have never sought publicity and are entitled to their private life. Therefore Mrs Hewson has given us no other option than to take out this injunction.”