Trouble on Sark: backdrop to the Barclay brothers' feud
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.
BRITAIN'S LAST FIEFDOM
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.
THE WAR YEARS
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.
A TASTE OF DEMOCRACY
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 BARCLAYS' REACTION
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."
WHAT THE TWINS OWN
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."
THE LOCAL PAPER
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.