His granddaughter’s wedding was a chance for Rupert Murdoch to put his split from Jerry Hall to the back of his mind.
But the celebrations turned sour for the 91-year-old media tycoon after Miss Hall’s divorce lawyers seized the opportunity to serve him with legal papers.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal a ‘shocked’ Mr Murdoch was handed the documents in the car park of RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire moments before he boarded his private plane.
Lying in wait was private investigator Michael Colacicco, a former Metropolitan Police anti-terrorism officer. According to one witness, Mr Murdoch was surrounded by his security but ‘didn’t react in time’ before Mr Colacicco thrust the paperwork into the mogul’s hands.
‘He looked shocked, to put it mildly,’ the source said.
The extraordinary scenario could have come straight from an episode of the hit television drama Succession, which follows the machinations of an elderly billionaire media mogul and his warring family who are fighting to wrestle control of the dynasty.
That Miss Hall resorted to such aggressive tactics to get the divorce proceedings moving is perhaps an indication of how upset she is by her treatment. Reports have claimed that billionaire Mr Murdoch ended their six-year marriage in an email to Miss Hall, 66.
Sources said she was left ‘devastated’ by the marital breakdown, and that she believes Mr Murdoch soured on her during the pandemic when she kept him isolated to stop him getting Covid. It is claimed this caused tensions with his children, who allegedly ‘mistrusted’ her and accused her of refusing to let them see him.
On July 1 the former model filed for divorce in Los Angeles, citing ‘irreconcilable differences’. They are said to have signed a prenuptial agreement, but Miss Hall’s lawyers claim that she was ‘unaware of the full nature and extent of all [Murdoch’s] assets and debts, and will amend this petition when the information has been ascertained’.
The day after Miss Hall filed for divorce, Mr Murdoch was photographed mingling with family outside St Mary’s Church in Westwell, Oxfordshire, at granddaughter Charlotte and Luke Storey’s wedding. Mr Murdoch was served with divorce papers the following Monday morning.
Nick Goldstone, head of dispute resolution at international law firm Ince, said that the fact Mr Murdoch was served in person showed that ‘the recipient was not expecting to be served or that the serving party expected a degree of evasion’.
He added: ‘Until such time as service has been effected, the proceedings cannot progress. It can be a tricky exercise, particularly where the target is an international traveller and you want to serve them within the jurisdiction. Catching them when they are in situ can be crucial.’
He said the move suggested Miss Hall wants to ‘progress with the divorce as soon as possible’.
Mark Stephens CBE, with London-based law firm Howard Kennedy, said it appeared to be a ‘well executed’ service of the paperwork, and serving Mr Murdoch personally was a way to ‘speed things up’.
He added: ‘I suspect he [Murdoch] will have been given the opportunity for his lawyers to accept service and they didn’t. It may have been done to say, you’re not going to get away with this for nothing.’
Mr Stephens said the fact Miss Hall filed for divorce in California – they were married in London – is significant as it is a community property state, meaning that any property acquired during the marriage is by default split 50/50.
Among the documents that could be made public are financial disclosures that Mr Murdoch made to Miss Hall for their prenup.
Mr Stephens added: ‘This is a case that doesn’t need to be litigated. He’s rich enough to pay what’s asked. The smart thing is don’t line the pages of newspapers – just get on and settle the case.’
Mr Murdoch declined to comment, while Miss Hall and her legal team did not respond to questions.