A top property solicitor today has avoided jail for headbutting the father of an EastEnders star at the High Court during a heated £100 million legal battle.
Philip Saunders, 69, attacked businessman Mohammad Reza Ghadami on 7 April last year, breaking his nose after an exchange of words following a day in court.
CCTV footage shows the pair talking on the first floor landing of the Rolls Building at the Royal Courts of Justice before Mr Ghadami, 62, swings his briefcase between Saunders’ legs to move him out of the way.
The married father-of-three can be seen taking a step back before headbutting Mr Ghadami, who went to get help with blood streaming from his face and required surgery on his broken nose.
Mr Ghadami, whose son Davood plays Kush on the BBC soap, said he was simply trying to go to the toilet when Saunders approached him ‘out of the blue.’
He told Inner London Crown Court in January that Saunders approached him, saying: ‘You better f***ing find the money to pay me and others.’
The property developer was involved in a long-running legal dispute with businessman Paul Bloomfield and 18 others, including Saunders, over a disputed land deal, claiming £100m in damages.
When Mr Ghadami replied that he did not owe him anything, Saunders said: ‘We are f***ing in charge, you just got lucky.’
He added: ‘He said you don’t know what we are capable of, you will never succeed in the case. He kept on at me about money and winning and power.’
The businessman admitted swinging his briefcase at the solicitor, calling him a ‘piece of s**t’ as he tried to get past.
Mr Ghadami said: ‘He went backwards and all his body lifted his head, which he put on the back of my nose. I couldn’t believe it, it was bleeding from my nose and mouth.
‘I went straight downstairs to tell someone what had happened.
‘He just told me to remember it and I do remember it, I will never forget it. He wanted me to remember what I was getting.’
An email from Mr Ghadami was read the court which stated: ‘Nothing less than serving in prison would be sufficient in order to punish Mr Saunders for the crime he committed.’
Saunders, a leading property conveyance solicitor who was a partner in Marylebone-based law firm Saunders Bearman between 1996 and 2013, told police he acted in self-defence, claiming he was ‘hit in the balls’ with Mr Ghadami’s suitcase and was called a ‘Jewish s**t’.
He was found guilty by a jury, but Recorder Steven Gasztowicz QC prevented reporting of the case while Mr Ghadami was facing a trial for the alleged anti emetic slur, before the case was dropped by the CPS.
Saunders, who was a witness in the £132m damages claim against the billionaire Candy brothers last week, appeared at Inner London Crown Court in a grey suit, white shirt and blue tie to face sentencing.
David Nathan QC, representing Saunders, said the attack came about from a ‘most unpleasant background going on for four years since the inception of these civil proceedings.’
He noted that the civil case had forced Saunders to give up his practice because his insurance premiums had gone ‘through the roof’ and said that ‘up until the moment Mr Saunders headbutted Mr Ghadami, he was trying very hard not to react.’
Mr Nathan said Mr Ghadami had made a ‘religiously offensive remark to Mr Saunders,’ which had been ‘spoken in anger and hate.’
He told the court that Mr Ghadami had told police that he called Saunders a ‘piece of s**t’ as well as ‘words to the effect of “don’t be so Jewish.”
‘“Jewish” and “shit” featured in the abuse he flung at Mr Saunders in the moments before Mr Saunders reacted as he did.’
Mr Nathan claimed Saunders, who was a ‘good and decent man’, had been ‘vilified in the press’ and asked for the court to consider ‘the impact this case has had, is having and will continue to have on Mr Saunders and his family.’
He added that Saunders had been taking antidepressants since the trial and had referred himself to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, where he will face disciplinary proceedings.
He also called into question Mr Ghadani’s ‘continuing problems associated with the injury’ and said he was ‘determined to pursue’ a campaign against Saunders, which could provide ‘some insight into what is happening on that CCTV and the amount of provocation.’
Passing sentence, Recorder Gasztowicz said: ‘You are a solicitor who has led a decent life and never been in trouble before.
‘However, on 7 April 2016 you assaulted a litigant in person in the High Court building, the Rolls Building, by forcefully headbutting him, causing a fractured nose.
‘Mr Ghadani sued you and a number of other people and the litigation had gone on for some time. It is clear that the litigation was a source of some nuisance to you.
‘After the hearing, you met Mr Ghadani in the public area of the Rolls Building and you unwisely began an altercation by commenting to him that you hoped he had the money to pay the costs of the litigation.
‘Mr Ghadani swung his pilot case towards you and was aggressive and used offensive comments.
‘What exactly was said, I cannot say, but it seems to have included a derogatory reference to your religion.
‘You completely lost your self-control, lent backwards and quite deliberately headbutted him. A jury rejected your contention this was done in self-defence.
‘It was clear that you could have left his presence without doing anything like that deliberate and serious assault, albeit on the spur of the moment.
‘There are serious aggravating features: the offence was committed in a High Court building, where any litigant is entitled to feel safe, however annoying he may be and whatever is going on between you.
‘It was committed by someone who was a solicitor, who is trusted to act properly in such buildings.
‘At the same time, I have to take into account the mitigating features. There was a considerable amount of provocation and some aggression from Mr Ghadani.’
He noted that the adverse publicity was ‘entirely of your own making.’
Saunders, of  Vale Close, Maida Vale, was found guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, suspended for two years, and ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work.
A five-year restraining order was imposed and Saunders was also made subject to a four-month curfew between 8pm and 6am and ordered to pay £5,000 prosecution costs.
He is now likely to be struck off the roll of solicitors.