With its breathtaking views across Singapore’s Marina Bay — not to mention five bedrooms, a swimming pool and an eye-watering £43million price tag, Sir James Dyson’s new home-from-home in Asia is a lavish affair indeed.
The billionaire inventor controversially relocated his company’s headquarters to the Asian city state earlier this year, despite being a vociferous advocate of Brexit.
The Wallich Residence ‘super penthouse’ he and wife Deirdre bought last month takes up 21,000sq ft over three floors and is believed to the most expensive apartment ever sold in the city.
Lynette Flanders (right), who spent a decade working as house manager for the Dysons at their £20 million Gloucestershire estate, was made redundant last summer. Pictured with her husband Mike
But while Sir James sets up home at the very top of Singapore’s tallest skyscraper, back in the UK one of his former employees claims to be in danger of losing hers — thanks to a bitter legal row with the bagless vacuum cleaner tycoon.
Lynette Flanders, who spent a decade working as house manager for the Dysons at their £20 million Gloucestershire estate, was made redundant last summer. After launching an unfair dismissal claim against Sir James, she found herself accused of spying on the Dyson family and stealing secrets in the form of emails, recorded conversations and photographs.
Now, two months after Sir James launched a £50,000 legal suit against the mother of three, Mrs Flanders, 50, has revealed she is in danger of losing her house after being ‘forced into litigation’ by one of Britain’s richest men. She says she has already spent £60,000 on solicitors representing her in the ‘David and Goliath’ case.
This week, as details of the Dysons’ fabulous new Singapore home emerged, Mrs Flanders — who denies any wrong-doing — launched an extraordinary appeal for financial assistance towards her hefty legal fees via online fund-raising platform ‘CrowdJustice’.
‘The costs are huge,’ she said. ‘I am confused as to what their ultimate goal actually is. We have paid tens of thousands of pounds. Any money we earn goes in legal fees.’
Pictured, Lady Deirdre Dyson and Sir James Dyson attend the Christmas Installation unveiling by Sir David Attenborough at Aqua Shard on November 16, 2016 in London. The billionaire inventor controversially relocated his company’s headquarters to Singapore
Describing herself as a ‘normal working-class person’ pitted against ‘the giant billionaires Sir James and Lady Dyson’, she says she and husband Michael have spent their life savings so may now be forced to sell the £400,000 three-bed cottage they bought and lovingly restored in the village of Frampton Cotterell, Gloucestershire.
‘Our home is now in jeopardy but we are unable to walk away,’ says Mrs Flanders.
A family friend told me: ‘It’s so ironic that at a time when Lynette is in danger of losing her own home after being forced into litigation with no option to walk away, Dyson is splashing out millions on one worth a hundred times more.
‘She feels as if she is being punished for not accepting the redundancy was fair and for daring to stand up to the Dysons.’
In the online appeal she launched this week, Mrs Flanders, who has Type 1 diabetes, claims she is ‘mentally broken’ after being sued by the Dysons while pursuing her unfair dismissal claim.
‘I was completely committed to serving them and my life took second place to their needs,’ she writes in an emotional account of her plight. She says she’s gone from being a ‘happy, hard-working, dedicated person’ to someone ‘in a desperate position’.
‘I have to appeal to the wider community to help me raise funds — to help the little person against a giant,’ she adds.
‘She absolutely loved her job,’ adds the family friend. ‘Working for the Dysons was Lyn’s life.
‘She was devoted to them. In the past, she cancelled holidays to make sure that everything was right for them. She finds it so hurtful that anyone would accuse her of actively trying to harm them.’
Mrs Flanders first came into contact with Sir James in 2007 via the flooring company she ran with her husband. It was brought in to renovate and maintain wooden and stone floors at Dodington Park, a vast 16th-century, 300-acre estate in Gloucestershire.
Mrs Flanders first came into contact with Sir James in 2007 via the flooring company she ran with her husband. It was brought in to renovate and maintain wooden and stone floors at Dodington Park (pictured), a vast 16th-century, 300-acre estate in Gloucestershire
The main house — which has 51 bedrooms, 40 bathrooms and ten reception rooms and was bought by Sir James in 2003 — was built in the early 19th century. Its upkeep requires vast amounts of specialist renovation work and the constant attention of around 100 staff.
When she was asked to cover the maternity leave of one of the estate’s part-time cleaners, Mrs Flanders agreed and worked four hours every weekday morning. When she was given a contract as one of five domestic cleaners and husband Michael also offered full-time employment, the couple folded their flooring company.
‘Lyn loved working for them,’ the family friend told me this week. ‘Sir James was always pleasant to her and she got on particularly well with Lady Dyson. She used to confide in her about private matters but Lyn would never have dreamed of revealing things she was told.’
It may have been thanks to this loyalty, not to mention the secretarial skills which Mrs Flanders had learnt as a YTS trainee working for Rolls-Royce in the 1990s, that she was promoted to ‘house manager’ in 2011.
By the time she was made redundant, she was earning £39,000 a year. Her job description covered everything from organising events and entertainment at the house to ordering food, stationery and equipment, plus managing staff.
When she was asked to cover the maternity leave of one of the estate’s part-time cleaners, Mrs Flanders agreed and worked four hours every weekday morning. Pictured, Dodington Park
The Dysons were particularly kind when Mrs Flanders suffered a serious diabetic episode at the end of 2016 which put her in a coma.
They sent flowers when she was admitted to intensive care and when she returned to hospital in May last year, this time for a scheduled operation which required six weeks’ absence from work, Sir James and Deirdre agreed to keep paying her full salary.
Despite the vast disparity in their wealth, the Dysons perhaps recognised something of themselves in the Flanders. Both were hard-working couples and parents to two sons and a daughter.
Both had worked hard to build up their own businesses. And if the Flanders’ 400-year-old cottage was dwarfed by Dodington Park then they had also worked hard to restore it. After buying two derelict stone cottages in 1999, they spent a year living in a caravan with children Ben, now 28, Kayty, 26, and Scott, 22, while turning them into the much-loved home Mrs Flanders says she may now lose.
There was a time in the early years of their relationship when the Dysons also struggled to make ends meet. They met as students at art college in London and moved into a run-down house in Fulham after marrying in 1968.
The main house — which has 51 bedrooms, 40 bathrooms and ten reception rooms and was bought by Sir James in 2003 — was built in the early 19th century
At times, cash was so tight that Sir James took an evening job in a petrol station while Deirdre helped keep things afloat by teaching life drawing classes in the kitchen.
It wasn’t until 1974 when his first commercial invention — the Ballbarrow version of the wheelbarrow — hit the market that the couple’s rise to fame and fortune began.
They are now said to be worth £12.6 billion. As well as Dodington Park and their Singapore residence, they also own a £20 million London townhouse, a £3 million chateau in Provence and a £50 million New York penthouse.
Meanwhile, mechanic’s daughter Lynette left Downend School in Bristol at 16 before becoming a Rolls-Royce trainee. She met graphic designer and artist Michael Flanders in 1989 and married the following year before setting up their flooring business in 1995. ‘They’re ordinary people who have worked hard to give their family a good life,’ says the friend.
Last July, just days after she returned to work following her operation, Mrs Flanders was called into a meeting with the estate manager at Dodington Park and presented with a ‘redundancy process letter’.
‘Lyn was absolutely stunned and devastated,’ says the friend. ‘She hadn’t seen it coming and couldn’t understand why it was happening. She had no warning of any negative issues with her work.’
According to the friend, Mrs Flanders was told that Lady Dyson, who has a carpet and rug company, had decided to take over as house manager herself — which might seem odd given that the Dysons have relocated to Singapore, some 7,000 miles away.
Last July, just days after she returned to work following her operation, Mrs Flanders was called into a meeting with the estate manager at Dodington Park and presented with a ‘redundancy process letter’
The friend added: ‘For a redundancy to be genuine, the job itself must no longer exist but if she was taking over Lyn’s job that meant that the position couldn’t be redundant.’ Another source says Mrs Flanders was offered £5,000 on top of statutory redundancy pay if she signed a letter accepting the payment as settlement.
‘She wouldn’t sign it,’ says the source. ‘She was advised to take legal advice and a solicitor told her she might have a case for unfair dismissal.’
On her final day, on August 31 last year, Mrs Flanders was presented with flowers and given a speech of thanks by the estate manager — but it wasn’t long before relations soured.
The first she realised something was wrong, she said this week as she launched her fund-raising appeal, was at the end of September when she did not receive her final salary or redundancy pay.
When she phoned to find out what had happened, she received an email accusing her of committing ‘serious criminal acts’.
Among the allegations were that she created a folder called ‘Deirdre’ on her work laptop containing ‘private, confidential and sensitive medical records’ of Lady Dyson, then copied it onto a portable USB stick. She was also accused of copying 5,000 emails to her personal email account and sending five photographs taken on her phone inside the Dysons’ home.
Mrs Flanders denies all claims against her and says the truth has been twisted against her despite the fact Dodington Park bosses knew she used her own phone and home laptop for work matters.
She admits creating a computer folder called ‘Deirdre’ and moving records of the work she had done to ‘tidy the electronic files’ but says she copied it to a USB ‘in order to retain a profile of the work she had undertaken’ as part of her unfair dismissal claim.
Last October, following a High Court order, Mrs Flanders was forced to hand over her devices to a specialist IT company and still has not had them returned
When she handed in her keys and Dodington Park pass before leaving the estate, she admits she ‘didn’t realise or consider any computer or phone data on my personal devices applied and this was also not brought to my attention.’
As for the emails — among them a list of guests invited to a ‘private opera’ that the Dysons were hosting — they were sent to her personal email address because she was working from home and could only print them out from her home computer, not her work laptop.
The photographs, of a windowsill display of family snaps, were taken before the sill was cleared so the framed pictures could be returned to the correct spot.
Last October, following a High Court order, Mrs Flanders was forced to hand over her devices to a specialist IT company and still has not had them returned.
Instead, she has had to review hundreds of thousands of pieces of data under the supervision of a solicitor, a process which is adding thousands to her legal bill.
‘I do not deny having had some of the Dysons’ data. I have not done anything with any such data beyond work purposes and I agree data needs to be removed,’ she says on her CrowdJustice page.
A spokesman for the Dyson family said: ‘The Dysons are seeking the return of their private property which was taken without their consent, running to several thousands of electronic data files, as well as family photos, videos [and] medical records.
‘Before the family were forced, as a last resort, to apply to the High Court, Ms Flanders was given numerous opportunities to return the family’s property but chose not to. A court subsequently directed Ms Flanders to comply with the family’s request and this remains the case. The family has also funded elements of the legal process to help Ms Flanders comply with the court’s direction and have at all times acted in a reasonable and proportionate way to protect the property and privacy of themselves and numerous others affected by Ms Flanders’ actions.’
His case against his former employee comes in what has already been an aggravating few months for the billionaire.
In January this year the outspoken Brexiteer, who has called on the Government to walk away from the EU without a deal, was accused of hypocrisy after quitting Britain and its tax system for Singapore amid claims he was ‘future-proofing’ his business
In January this year the outspoken Brexiteer, who has called on the Government to walk away from the EU without a deal, was accused of hypocrisy after quitting Britain and its tax system for Singapore amid claims he was ‘future-proofing’ his business.
This week he was also embroiled in a war of words with Honda about his plans to launch a Dyson electric car. The Japanese car manufacturer has reacted furiously to claims which emerged in a letter from Sir James to his local MP in which he suggested his controversial decision to move production and his company headquarters to Asia was partly caused by Honda’s refusal to rent him an unused building at its Swindon plant. Honda denies the claims.
Nor is it the first time that Sir James has found himself pitted against a former employee.
In 2017, he settled a legal dispute with his former chief executive, Max Conze, fired for allegedly stealing Dyson company secrets.
Conze responded saying: ‘This ridiculous allegation is merely trying to distract attention from the claims that Dyson knows I am to issue.’ He later received a payout of several million pounds to settle his claim for missing out on long- term share awards.
For the time being, the Dyson v Flanders saga looks set to continue. Last night, Mrs Flanders’s appeal had reached £4,225, still a way off her £100,000 target.
But according to the family friend: ‘Every penny helps. The attempt to raise funds with CrowdJustice is a last desperate attempt so that she and Mike don’t lose their house due to legal costs.
‘Sir James has chosen to go down this route for whatever reason and he won’t let it go.
‘Lynette has been broken by this. She doesn’t know what his end game is. She feels as if her life has been stolen away.’