The Hackney Empire strikes back, emerging triumphant in David and Goliath court case

The refurbished Hackney Empire, photo by Matt Humphrey

The refurbished Hackney Empire, photo by Matt Humphrey - Credit: Archant

The Hackney Empire has landed a £1.1m insurance payout a lengthy David and Goliath court battle it fought with the help of The Apprentice’s Lord Sugar.

The money has enabled the theatre in Mare Street to clear long-standing debts.

The Empire has suffered years of financial problems since builders employed for its grand refurbishment went bust in 2003 and Aviva — which was called Norwich Union at the time — refused to pay up on a £1.1 million bond.

Entrepreneur Alan Sugar, best known for his role in the BBC’s reality TV show The Apprentice, was already a donor to the restoration plans and stepped in with an interest-free loan to fund the remaining work which came to more than £1 million, and to pay suppliers and contractors. Lord Sugar, who was born and bred in Hackney where he attended Northwold School, also backed the theatre in its legal battle with Aviva over the claim.

The Supreme Court refused Aviva’s appeal in March this year, and Aviva has now paid the £1.1m and the £470,000 in interest.

Clarie Middleton, the chief executive of the Empire said:“This win against Aviva is of enormous significance to Hackney Empire and sets the seal on a new chapter in the organisation’s history.

“It has allowed us to clear balance sheet debt that has been hanging over the company since Aviva’s initial refusal to pay out on its insurance bond in 2004 and has thus underpinned the Empire’s new business model.”

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Solicitor Rupert Choat of CMS Cameron McKenna, the firm who acted on behalf of the Hackney Empire, said: “This was a David versus Goliath battle but we had a giant of our own fighting with us in the shape of Lord Sugar.

“The claim was within a whisker’s breadth of not being pursued, it only happened because of the no win no fee basis – an arrangement that new rules will prevent in the future.”