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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
An 'emissary of Beelzebub'
Hamilton Palace
Hoogstraten based his mansion on Buckingham Palace
As millionaire property developer Nicholas van Hoogstraten is found guilty of the manslaughter of a business associate, BBC News Online looks at his business practices and private life.

Nicholas van Hoogstraten has been branded a "bully" and an "emissary of Beelzebub" by judges in the past.

His list of previous convictions includes ordering a grenade attack on the home of a business associate, a Jewish clergyman who he claimed owed him money.

For that he spent four years in Wormwood Scrubs in the 1960s, but he happily admits his business practices have not always been strictly within the law.

He says he has done "all sorts of things one shouldn't strictly do".

'Nasty shock'

"I exact retribution - I try to make the punishment fit the crime," he once said.

To demonstrate, he tells the story of how he dealt with a business associate in Africa he had fallen out with.

He said the man would "get a nasty shock" involving a gun.

Van Hoogstraten hit the headlines most recently during an ugly spat with ramblers.

The argument was over a public footpath through the grounds of the enormous mansion he is building near Uckfield in East Sussex.

Called Hamilton Palace, after Bermuda's capital, it is vainglorious, neo-classical, with a copper-dome.

The whole purpose of having money is to put yourself on a pedestal

Nicholas van Hoogstraten

It is estimated to have cost 40m so far and is reportedly the most expensive private house built in Britain for a century.

It is bigger than Buckingham Palace and has Louis XV furniture, a Holbein painting, a 600ft art gallery and a mausoleum designed to hold van Hoogstraten's body for 5,000 years.

The walls are three feet thick because he said he wanted to "make the building last forever".

Van Hoogstraten deliberately blocked the footpath on his estate to the anger of the Ramblers Association, whose members he dubbed "riffraff", "perverts", "flashers", "the dirty mac brigade" and "the great unwashed".

An official at the local council, which was supposed to enforce the right of way, said his officers were "scared to death" of the businessman.

Young millionaire

Never afraid of a fight, he has described taking on a nun at school.

She "tried to whack me with a chair-leg once - I grabbed it and hit her and she never tried again".

He was born in 1946 in Shoreham, East Sussex, as plain Nicholas Marcel Hoogstraten - the "van" was added later.

He no longer speaks to his own mother who he describes as "a miserable cow".

He is, however, a fan of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, who he once described as "100% decent and incorruptible".

He holds vast fortunes in the African country and once said: "I don't believe in democracy, I believe in rule by the fittest."

Hoogstraten was UK's youngest millionaire
He began his business empire by buying property in the Bahamas.

With the profits he moved on to the British housing market, buying six properties in Notting Hill, London, before moving on to Brighton.

By the time he was 22, he was reputed to have had 350 properties in Sussex alone and to have become Britain's youngest millionaire.

But he also gained a sinister reputation and was accused of using strong-arm tactics against tenants of slum properties which he bought cheaply for redevelopment.

In the 1980s, as the housing market boomed, he prospered, acquiring more than 2,000 properties.

By the 1990s he had sold 90% of them, making massive profits and investing in other areas, including global mining.

Ten years ago, when a fire broke out at one of his properties in Brighton, he described the five people who died in the blaze as "lowlife, drug dealers, drug takers and queers - scum".

'Filthy tenants'

His outspoken and frequently bizarre views include that American President John F Kennedy was "on an ego trip" when he was assassinated and Diana, Princess of Wales, had "made a mockery of the Royal family".

To van Hoogstraten his tenants are "filth", while people who live in council houses are "worthless and lazy".

His misanthropy is legendary and he once said: "The only purpose in creating great wealth like mine is to separate oneself from the riffraff."

He has also said he believes that "the whole purpose of having money is to put yourself on a pedestal".

He has five children - four sons and a daughter - by three different mothers.

But they should not expect total financial security from their father, who has said he does not believe in inherited wealth.

"I will leave my children a few million so they won't starve. But I have seen people who think the world owes them a living. I believe everyone should do something useful," he said.

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19 Jul 02 | England
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