Last updated at 2:42 AM on 11th December 2011
Secretary: Stacey Van Rossum, a former employee of Mr Tooth sued him for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination
Known as ‘Jaws’ because of his reputation as the most formidable divorce lawyer in Britain, Raymond Tooth is famous for negotiating multi-million-pound settlements in celebrity divorce cases.
His glittering list of former clients includes Jude Law’s former wife Sadie Frost, rock star Eric Clapton’s ex Patti Boyd and Irina Abramovich, former wife of billionaire Chelsea Football Club chairman Roman.
Mr Tooth’s highly confidential business dealings are conducted – often late at night for additional privacy – in the glossy London offices of his firm, Sears Tooth, on one of the most desirable streets in Mayfair.
The diminutive 71-year-old has made
millions from closely guarding the domestic and financial secrets of the
rich and famous, who clearly find it hard to resist his motto: Don’t
get even – get Tooth.
was something of a surprise to 22-year-old Stacey Van Rossum when she
arrived at the Park Lane offices to start her new job as a filing clerk,
only to witness evidence of the lawyer’s own domestic strife.
watched as a heavily made-up blonde traipsed down the stairs, barking
orders at her chauffeur, who was laden with a box full of desk lamps and
was Debbie Dove, Mr Tooth’s second wife, who was that day vacating the
top floor of the law firm’s offices after the couple’s separation.
When Debbie reached the open door to her ex-husband’s office, she glanced briefly at the figure bowed over his desk.
He was dictating letters to his
secretary to be sent to potential clients – since the recession had hit,
business was slowing as fewer and fewer divorcees had been willing to
pay his £450-an-hour bills.
Strange boss: Celebrity lawyer Raymond Tooth with his ex-wife Debbie left, and right with Stacey Van Rossum who has been in an unfair dismissal case against him – her former employer
Mr Tooth met her stare and they simultaneously uttered an awkward ‘Hey’ before Debbie hurried after her over-burdened driver.
brief, bizarre exchange gives an intriguing insight into Mr Tooth’s
unconventional lifestyle. But as Stacey soon found out, it was only the
start of what would turn out to be a very colourful period of
employment, which ended when she became pregnant and clashed with Mr
Tooth over maternity leave.
At a Central London employment tribunal last month, Stacey, now 25, claimed her ex-boss offered to ‘kick the baby out of her stomach’ and said he did not want ‘to pay someone for sitting on their a*** doing nothing’. Mr Tooth denied these allegations.
The tribunal heard that while on maternity leave Stacey had been informed that she may be made redundant. She sued for unfair dismissal and sexual discrimination.
However, the tribunal ruled that she had quit the firm rather than been sacked. It also accepted that the firm had lost sufficient business to justify her redundancy.
The firm was ordered to pay Stacey £1,872 in holiday pay and she now plans to launch an appeal against the rejection of her claim.
Today, she paints a vivid picture of her extravagant and often eccentric former employer – a man who ordered his secretaries to scratch his back, sent staff in his Maybach limousine a mile across town to pick up his chicken soup for lunch, and who treated them to a five-star weekend in Dubai.
Former Clients: Sadie Frost, left and Patti Boyd right have both been represented by Mr Tooth
Stacey’s encounter with the world of Raymond Tooth began in a suitably unconventional way. Five years ago, Stacey was working in a particularly upmarket branch of Victor Chandler bookmakers in Mayfair, and racehorse owner Mr Tooth was a regular customer who enjoyed a flutter.
At 9am each day, as most businessmen headed to the office, Mr Tooth would arrive at the betting shop in his company-owned £220,000 navy blue Maybach, driven by his chauffeur Steve Rigby.
The car, described as the most luxurious in the world, comes with a champagne-filled fridge and heated seats.
I could pick up £200 a day in tips
because they were generous people – and Ray Tooth was no different. We
struck up a friendship and Steve, his driver, said, ‘Why don’t you come
and work for Ray?’ I thought he was joking
Stacey struck up a friendly relationship with Mr Tooth and says that he mixed freely with the other wealthy customers, who included television football pundit Jamie Redknapp and hardman actor Ray Winstone.
She says: ‘Mr Tooth would gamble between £200 and £300 a day on the race card while I fetched him his breakfast of coffee and sandwiches. It was an exclusive place full of businessmen from Dubai and India who were staying at The Dorchester.
‘I could pick up £200 a day in tips because they were generous people – and Ray Tooth was no different. We struck up a friendship and Steve, his driver, said, ‘Why don’t you come and work for Ray?’ I thought he was joking.’
A job offer was made, but that came to nothing. Then, in September 2008, Mr Tooth sent Mr Rigby in the Maybach to collect Stacey from her Tottenham home so he could pitch for her services in person.
Happy couple: Rock star Eric Clapton, left with his ex-wife Patti Boyd
Clearly, the attractive young betting shop assistant had made a striking impression on the lawyer who was 45 years her senior.
Stacey recalls: ‘I grew up in Tottenham and we had never seen anything like that car there. My neighbours were shocked.
‘Ray offered to pay me £25,000, which was a £3,000 pay rise on the salary I was getting at the time. I jumped at it. I had such a good relationship with Ray and I thought it could be a stepping stone for me to go and study law and further my career.
‘My mum also trusted Ray because they once met by chance at Royal Ascot and got on well.’
Two weeks after the Maybach’s appearance in Tottenham, Stacey started work at Sears Tooth, just at the time Mr Tooth was finalising his divorce from Debbie Dove.
Mr Tooth had met Debbie in 2004 when he represented her during her separation from her second husband. At the time, Mr Tooth stressed that the relationship had blossomed only after the divorce was finalised.
Debbie was given the use of the top floor of his offices to manage her £80 million property portfolio. When their marriage broke down, Mr Tooth hired his arch-rival in the divorce law world, Fiona Shackleton – nicknamed The Steel Magnolia for her ruthless approach – to broker the separation.
Mrs Shackleton – now Baroness Shackleton after she was made a life peer last year – rose to fame when she was hired by Prince Charles during his divorce from Diana, and hit the headlines again when she was doused with water by an irate Heather Mills at the conclusion of her separation hearing from Sir Paul McCartney.
Most of the women in the office had to
scratch his back. Out of a staff of 12, he had seven female secretaries. They all just accepted it, he wasn’t like a normal boss
Despite appointing Mrs Shackleton to handle his affairs, Mr Tooth insisted his split from Debbie had been ‘amicable and non-confrontational’. He bought himself a £5 million Chelsea townhouse three months after the split.
‘I think Ray was relieved it was all over,’ says Stacey. ‘There was a bit of an atmosphere between her and Ray and it was awkward because she had to pass his office door.
‘Sometimes there’d be a ‘hey’ but other times they would just blank each other.’
But if she thought Mr Tooth’s personal life was bizarre thus far, there were further eccentricities to come. A few weeks into Stacey’s employment, Mr Tooth called her into his office.
‘He said, ‘Get over here and scratch my back.’ I thought, ‘What the bloody hell is going on?’’
Stacey was bemused but he seemed serious so, rather than question his professional standards – and being keen to please her new boss – she did what she was told.
Walking across his vast, high-ceilinged office – where a television showed horse racing and there were stacks of large colour-coded folders – Stacey turned her back on the panoramic view of Hyde Park, approached him as he sat at his desk and began applying pressure to his shoulders through his pinstripe suit.
She shrugs when explaining it. ‘I just did it, you couldn’t refuse Ray,’ she says. ‘Once I started doing it, he would go back to reading his papers in his files.
‘He would say, ‘A bit lower’ or ‘Push a bit harder,’ and then after about ten minutes he would just say, ‘That’s it now. Be gone.’
‘Most of the women in the office had to scratch his back. Out of a staff of 12, he had seven female secretaries. They all just accepted it, he wasn’t like a normal boss.
Private: The only celebrity Stacey says she saw in Tooth’s office was Elle Macpherson
‘One of his secretaries was a trained masseuse and when he found that out he wouldn’t let anyone else do it. But I did end up doing it for him about four or five times.
‘There was nothing sexual about it. It was never like that with Ray – if anything it was slightly amusing. We just took it at face value that he had an itch that needed scratching and we got on with it.’
Other tasks included collecting Mr Tooth’s lunch. In keeping with his sense of extravagance, this was no typical trip to the local sandwich shop. Each day she was driven in the Maybach to an upmarket Jewish restaurant and delicatessen named Reubens on Baker Street – a journey of only one mile.
There she would spend £10 on the chicken soup for which the establishment is famous before being swiftly driven back to the office to ensure it was still hot when it reached her boss.
Stacey also describes his meticulous protection of his celebrity clients’ confidentiality.
The only celebrity I ever saw at the office was Elle Macpherson – I bumped into her on the stairs once,’ she says. ‘Ray would often work really late, sometimes until 11.30pm, so I think he would meet the high-profile clients after all the staff had left.
‘He also kept certain files in his office rather than in the filing cabinets. I think that’s where he kept his really important clients’ notes.
‘He was meticulous about filing. If he found we had messed up on that he would swear and shout saying, ‘What the f****** hell is wrong with you, woman?’ or threaten to sack you.
‘He made some of the girls cry and I once heard him swearing and raging at one of his female clients. I think it was because something unexpected had come up in court.
‘He worked incredibly hard. When he went on holiday to Antigua he called the office four times a day to make sure everything was running smoothly.’
He was also an unusually generous boss. In December 2008, Mr Tooth spent about £45,000 to take the entire Sears Tooth staff on a four-day holiday to the £300-a-night Atlantis The Palm Hotel in Dubai.
The five-star resort had been opened
just three months before their arrival during a ceremony attended by
basketball star Michael Jordan and actors Wesley Snipes and Lindsay
Lohan. During the event, one million fireworks were set off in 15
minutes at a cost of more than £10 million.
Mr Tooth’s staff luxuriated in the lavish surroundings, swimming with dolphins and frolicking in the 40-acre water theme park.
was incredibly generous,’ says Stacey. ‘He arranged and paid for a
trip to the desert in jeeps, lavish suppers and shopping trips to the
souks. He didn’t come on the day trips but would join us for supper.’
was shortly after this trip that Stacey discovered she was pregnant.
She claims Mr Tooth’s less than sympathetic attitude caused relations
between them to sour.
Friends: Tooth’s social circle included actor Ray Winstone pictured left with his daughter Jaime and former footballer Jamie Redknapp, right
She told the tribunal that when she informed him about the baby, he suggested she name it Victor after her former employer because that was ‘where she would be going back to’.
She also claimed Mr Tooth was openly abusive as the pregnancy progressed, and threatened to sack her if she took another day off sick. She took early maternity leave in July 2009 ‘because working with Mr Tooth was very difficult’.
Her son, Oliver, was born in October 2009 and the disagreement between the two over her return from maternity leave resulted in the employment tribunal.
Despite the judgment, Stacey remains defiant: ‘I have no quarrel with Ray apart from the way he treated me over the pregnancy. He has old-fashioned views and women should not have to tolerate it.
‘But apart from that I respect him. Despite the stress he goes through, especially at his age, he really loves working in divorce.’
Last night Mr Tooth said: ‘Stacey’s allegations, which contain a number of material inaccuracies, are made following a claim for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination in an employment tribunal which she lost. In her evidence to the tribunal she agreed that I had always behaved professionally in the office.
‘She did scratch my back on a couple of occasions. I think she was pushing it in because I suffered from problems in my shoulder. That was all there was to it.’