Trouble on Sark: backdrop to the Barclay brothers' feud

Mar 28, 2012

An attempt to bring democracy to Britain's last remaining fiefdom never paid off


THE BBC's revelation that all is not well on the apparently idyllic Channel Island of Sark, where a bitter feud has blown up between some locals and the Barclay brothers, owners of The Daily Telegraph, has cast a spotlight on this curious corner of Britain.

Sark, which covers an area of only 2.1 square miles, and is situated off the coast of Normandy, is Britain's last fiefdom and is still formally run by a feudal lord, Seigneur John Michael Beaumont (pictured above), who pays the Queen a symbolic rent of £1.79 a year. The island has no tarmac roads and no motor cars [see photographs]. It decides its own laws and sets its own taxes.

During World War II, Sark, like the other Channel Islands, was occupied by the Nazis, who arrived there in 1940 after the island's official surrender. Although some Channel Islands were evacuated before the Germans arrived the Dame of Sark encouraged the population to stay. A garrison of German troops was based on the island and in 1942 several were captured during a British Commando raid. The Germans officially surrendered on 10 May, 1945.

At the urging of the Barclay brothers, who had begun buying businesses on the island after building themselves a mock-Gothic castle on the adjacent islet of Brecqhou, a Parliament was created on Sark in 2008. To the dismay of the Barclays, instead of voting for the pro-democracy factions, the islanders elected members - or 'conseillers' - who broadly wished to maintain the existing feudal system. Seigneur Beaumont remained the island's hereditary ruler.

The twins' reaction to the December 2008 election was ruthless: they closed down all their business interests on the island, resulting in the loss of more than 100 jobs out of a total population of 600. A month later, in January 2009, they began reopening their businesses and giving locals their jobs back. Diana Beaumont, wife of the Seigneur, said at the time: "They [the Barclays] were the ones that started all this democracy business, now they don't like it because they haven't won."

The billionaire twins, Sir David and Sir Frederick, who own the Ritz Hotel in London as well as the Telegraph group, have bought four of the six hotels on the island. Seigneur Beaumont told Radio 4: "It's generally believed on Sark that they are trying to take over the island. They keep saying that they've got enormous inward investment, but it's actually into their hotels and their land."

Some islanders claim the Barclays have been "using" the Sark Newsletter for "personal intimidation and attacks" on their enemies within the community. However, the paper is not theirs – it is owned and edited by Kevin Delaney. He claims the newsletter is the only effective opposition to the Seigneur on the island.

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Eh? This is very selective. You fail to point out that Kevin Delaney is the MD of the Barclays BVI-based interests on the island. Who wrote this piece for teh week, we wonder? As for "Some Islanders" it is democratic majority of the islanders.

As for teh "pro democracy faction", surely you mean to say "Pro Barclay faction"

I am very disappointed in The Week, and this type of thing makes us all wonder what other selective mis-directions you publish..?

The Barclay Bros are modern day Sheriff's of Nottingham. I lived on the Island but now live in the UK so can speak out. 

It sounds to me like the megarich Barclay Brothers want to bully the islanders into thinking what they want them to think. Why? Altruism and the love of the democratic vote? I think that is most unlikely seeing as theor reaction to democracy in action was so vicious. Considering that Sark is able to set its own tax rates, it the Barclays are extremely keen to have a ruling interest in the government for their own benefit, which would be vast.

the basic fact is, the only reason the barclay bros bought the brechou rock was with the sole intention of taking sark for themselves.

why build a castle to defend something you have not already conquered

I'm afraid this article is poorly researched.

First, some correct history. A Parliament (Chief Pleas) has existed since soon after the Island was settled in 1565 by Helier de Carteret with 40 families from Jersey. Until 1922 Chief Pleas consisted of 40 landowners who owned the 40 parcels of land the island had been split into on settlement. In that year, 12 People's Deputies were added to the mix, elected by universal suffrage, bringing the maximum number of members of Chief Pleas to 52. In 2008 the makeup of Chief Pleas was changed to 28 elected "Conseillers", the Seigneur and the Seneschal (Chief Judge and Presiding Officer).

It is a misnomer, or certainly a normative statement, to describe those who supported the Barclays as "pro-democracy". Some of those who argued strongly for democracy were opposed to the Barclays. You might say there are two vectors: pro-democracy and traditionalist, and pro-Barclay and anti-Barclay. It was perfectly possible to be any combination of these. Now, the democracy argument is over and it is no longer helpful to describe people in those terms.

As another commenter mentions, you fail a) to mention that Kevin Delaney runs the Barclay's interests on Sark and b) that a forerunner to the Sark Newsletter, Sark News, was published by a Barclay company. The Newsletter is an advocate for Barclay interests, is written by a Barclay employee and by extention clearly states Barclay views.

As I say, a little poor.

I suggest that readers listen to Sarah Montague's report on the Today programe which is much more accurate and better balanced.

Why is it that the Barclay brothers have their ' little bit' of Sark with the castle stuck on it,but won't let visitors on it. Only those who stay in ' their
hotels' ? What have they got to hide ?
  Visitors go and return to Sark  for what it was!  Not for what the Barclay brothers think they might want. It is so sad to see the hedge rows being dug up and the acres of vines being planted. Sark does not need this defacement, or the Barclay brothers rather trashy ideas. Please leave this little island alone and go and knock up some tower blocks in Monti Carlo for your Rich friends over there.