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Hoogstraten: I'll sue everybody
12:00pm Wednesday 10th December 2003 in News
Nicholas Hoogstraten returned to his home turf last night, saying he would not disappear quietly.
The tycoon posed for pictures outside the Courtlands Hotel in Hove as he enjoyed his new-found freedom.
He told photographers he was staying at the hotel, having earlier left the Old Bailey as a free man and declaring he had been vindicated.
He was formally cleared of the killing of Mohammed Raja yesterday after serving 12 months of a ten-year sentence for manslaughter of the business rival.
Mr Hoogstraten was whisked away in a taxi outside the court in London after speaking to reporters. He made his way to Hove and arrived at the hotel, which was once part of his property empire, shortly after 7pm.
Staff were adamant Mr Hoogstraten was no longer connected with the hotel and said it was now owned by a company called Maxwell.
Mr Hoogstraten talked briefly to photographers in front of a board, which still advertises the restaurant, Nick's Place.
Hotel staff later said Mr Hoogstraten had gone out and were unsure if he was planning to return.
Earlier, in one of his first interviews since his release, he said it was "pretty obvious" people had conspired to put him in jail.
He said: "I certainly know of various forces that were out to get me," and later added: "I am not the sort of person who would disappear quietly. Why should I, bearing in mind what I have been through in the past two years?"
Mr Hoogstraten had served his sentence in Belmarsh Prison until his conviction was quashed.
He was jailed after being accused of hiring two men who killed fellow Brighton landlord Mr Raja.
Mr Hoogstraten, who once owned a string of hotels along the Sussex coast, has always maintained his innocence.
As he left court, he threatened to sue "just about everybody" involved in his prosecution.
Speaking to Radio 4's PM programme yesterday, he said he had been taking "strict instructions" on what legal action to take against those he holds responsible for his downfall.
He said he had already made complaints to the Metropolitan Police about the way his case had been handled.
He said: "There is an investigation at a high level. I believe it is the Met's special investigations unit, concerning police conduct during the investigation.
"This investigation was put into train by me shortly after I was convicted last year."
He may also call for an investigation into the way the courts and the Home Office dealt with his trial.
When asked if he was ever a terror landlord, he said: "I am not so sure I have been a terror landlord. I do not think anybody has ever accused me of being a terror landlord."
He was then quizzed on whether his tenants feared him, to which he answered: "My tenants? You must be joking. Where did you get that idea from? I have no doubt whatsoever that my tenants are jubilant about the fact I have been released."
However, he admitted he had a fearsome reputation as a businessman.
He said: "I have no doubt I have been notorious. I have had a coloured and chequered career. I'm a self-made man. Is there any self-made man who's not notorious?"
Since his conviction in August 2002 Mr Hoogstraten's assets have been frozen.
Sequestrators already have between £19 million and £22 million of the controversial landlord's assets under their control, mostly properties in and around Brighton and Hove.
He also faces an estimated £2.4 million bill for unpaid fines, which may still have to be paid because they do not relate directly to the overturned manslaughter conviction. Now he must begin the task of rebuilding his empire.
Mr Hoogstraten said he did not know what the future held for him but refused to be drawn into discussions about his finances.
When asked about money, he said: "Am I going to worry about that? Of course I'm not. Why should I worry about that? Do I need money? What for? These things do not bother me. They do not interest me."
Sequestrators have also seized assets to pay damages being claimed by Mr Raja's family.
Mr Hoogstraten said although he felt "sympathy" for Mr Raja's family, he was angered by their claims for damages.
He said: "I have no sympathy whatsoever in the way they have pursued firstly the financial claim against me."
Despite building himself the multi-million pound Hamilton Palace at Framfield, near Uckfield, before his conviction, he hinted his spending habits were not much different inside Belmarsh to outside.
He said: "I did not even use my weekly allowance while I was in Belmarsh in the canteen. I did not use all my telephone allowance either.
"I have lived very modestly for the past two years and I did not live much better than modestly for the 20 years before."
He said he felt "numb" after his release from Belmarsh, which he described as one of the "good points" of his ordeal.
He said: "The officers and inmates were very supportive and helpful to me throughout my ordeal.
"It is difficult to describe but bearing in mind the dramatic contrast between my life outside and my life inside, I was pleasantly surprised, particularly in the progress that has been made in the area of staff management and inmate welfare."
His fortune was once valued at £185 million and he has been linked with a string of companies.
Hamilton Palace Ltd, Messina Investments BVI, Rarebargain Ltd, Tombstone Ltd and Willoughby's Consolidated plc are just a few.
Court proceedings back in December 2002 ruled there were 30 bank accounts in Mr Hoogstraten's or one of his company's names and eight hotels in Brighton and Hove.
Some of these are now controlled by the courts but Mr Hoogstraten is due to challenge the sequestration order early next year.
During the past 20 years, Mr Hoogstraten has sold much of his property empire. At his peak, he owned more than 400 homes in Brighton and Hove plus more in parts of London such as Kensington.
He also invested abroad and had more than a million acres of land in Zimbabwe. He was friendly with dictator Robert Mugabe and believed his holdings would not be taken away.
Back in Britain, he invested his money in works of art and in gold, which he felt were safer than property.
Hamilton Palace is the largest private mansion started in more than a century.
In February, the High Court heard Mr Hoogstraten had claimed Hamilton Palace was worth more than £30 million but was then valued at less than £1 million.
Accountants attempting to untangle the jailed landlord's complex financial empire put a price of just £620,000 on the unfinished mansion.
Mr Hoogstraten alleged he had been prosecuted despite the identity of the real killer being known.
It was only after the appointment of his new legal team and Sir Stephen Mitchell as the trial judge that he was cleared.
He said: "This prosecution should never have been brought. I have suffered two years of legal incompetence and dishonesty."
Mr Hoogstraten said £30 million of his £95 million fortune had been seized by the sequestrator and the rest had been frozen by the High Court.
But he added: "They are not my assets, they are my family assets."
Mr Hoogstraten looked refreshed after his first night of freedom.
His grey hair was carefully styled and he had on a freshly pressed grey, pinstriped suit and mauve tie.
On Monday, he looked dazed as left the Old Bailey to be greeted by his friends and family.
As he left the court yesterday, he publicly thanked members of his extended family and friends who had stuck by him.
He also thanked staff and inmates at Belmarsh Prison where he had been detained since March last year.
He said: "It could have been a lot worse. Fortunately, we have prison staff who are wonderful people.
"I wish to thank the staff and inmates of Belmarsh Prison for their support throughout.
"I have had between 800 to 900 letters from members of the public across the spectrum offering me their support and legal advice. It was greatly appreciated."
Only four letters had been from people who were not sympathetic - and two of those had been sent by ramblers, once described as "the great unwashed" by Mr Hoogstraten.
As Mr Hoogstraten left the court building, his solicitor Robert Berg said his client did not wish to say anything further.
Pressed by reporters to say how he felt, Mr Hoogstraten replied: "I am numb. I do not feel anything."
When asked if he was relieved, he replied: "Not really relieved - I had known this is the situation for some time."
One reporter wanted to know if he was now going to rebuild his life. Mr Hoogstraten retorted: "What do I need to rebuild?"
Asked if he would be seeking compensation, he said: "Compensation? Don't make me laugh."
When questioned about remorse, his lawyer said there was no reason why he should feel remorse as he had been vindicated.