News, Culture & Society

‘Bunny boiler’ Russian businesswoman jailed for 10 years 

Robert’s former Russian lover, Karine Solloway, who ordered the thugs to terrorise the mother and daughter

A Russian businesswoman who arranged a robbery at the home of her former lover has been jailed for 10 years.

Karine Solloway, 59, planned the robbery at the Cheshire home of Robert McKendrick after she loaned him hundreds of thousands of pounds during the course of a five-year affair, Chester Crown Court heard on Friday.

Mr McKendrick’s wife Priya, 53, and their daughter Scarlett, who was 17 at the time, were tied up and forced to wear ear defenders and blacked out goggles after Paul Prior, Iain McGarry and Kimpton Mativenga burst into the Alderley Edge home on October 6 last year and stole £157,000 worth of goods, including jewellery and chinaware, in a four-hour long ordeal.

Speaking outside court, Mrs McKendrick said she was ‘delighted’ with the sentence.

She said: ‘She’s a bunny boiler and she’s going to the right place.’

Solloway, who had been living in London for 30 years, cried during the hearing before she was sentenced, having been found guilty of conspiracy to rob following a trial last month.

Judge David Hale described the crime as an ‘extremely serious and extraordinary case’.

Priya McKendrick, left, with daughter Scarlett, who were both tied up and robbed at the orders of the ex-mistress of Robert (centre)

Priya McKendrick, left, with daughter Scarlett, who were both tied up and robbed at the orders of the ex-mistress of Robert (centre)

The court heard the businesswoman, who was in Moscow at the time, had planned the robbery with Prior, who went on to recruit McGarry, a qualified paramedic, and Mativenga as ‘muscle’.

Solloway, who ran a successful business referring wealthy Russian clients for medical treatment in the UK, met Mr McKendrick, a businessman with interests including logging and rice growing in Africa, at a party at the Russian embassy in London in 2008.

Andrew Ford, prosecuting, said Mr McKendrick had led a ‘double life’ during their affair and when his business ran into difficulty Solloway lent him money.

The exact figure lent to Mr McKendrick was disputed but the court heard it may have amounted to more than £1 million.

The court heard the relationship ended ‘acrimoniously’ in 2013 but there had been legal attempts to settle the debt Mr McKendrick owed to Solloway.

Mr Ford said: ‘But she then met Paul Prior and the events took a sinister turn.’

Prior and Solloway planned the robbery during meetings and in WhatsApp conversations which referred to Mr McKendrick as ‘the enemy’.

Mr McKendrick was in Africa on the night of the incident and his wife and daughter were watching The Apprentice at about 10pm when the robbers struck, having driven up from London the previous day with equipment including drugs such as morphine and diazepam.

Kimpton Mativenga

Iain McGarry

Iain McGarry (right) and Kimpton Mativenga (left) burst into the Alderley Edge home on October 6 last year and stole £157,000 worth of goods, including jewellery and chinaware, in a four-hour long ordeal

The women were shepherded through the house while it was ransacked by the men and at times forced to kneel on the floor.

Mr Ford said the mother and daughter were separated for most of the ordeal, Mrs McKendrick had cling film stretched over her face and at one point one of the attackers forced Scarlett’s legs open as if he would sexually assault her.

In a statement which was read to the court, Mr McKendrick, who is now going through divorce proceedings with his wife, said: ‘I feel responsible now for the attack as if I had never had the affair my family would never have been assaulted and traumatised.’

The home in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, where Priya was almost suffocated with clingfilm

The home in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, where Priya was almost suffocated with clingfilm

Simon Csoka QC, defending Solloway, said the incident was the culmination of the relationship and a long legal process to try and recover the money given to her former lover.

He said: ‘Something has simply snapped in her and it’s no reflection whatsoever of her true character.’

Ex-military personnel Prior, 34, of Woolwich, London, and McGarry, 48, of Weybridge, Surrey, admitted conspiracy to rob while carer Mativenga, 31, of St Albans, was found guilty of the offence following a trial.

Prior, who the court heard had been discharged from the Army with post traumatic stress disorder, was jailed for 10 years, with an extra three years to be spent on licence.

McGarry was jailed for eight years and Mativenga was jailed for six and a half.         

Speaking to the Mail last month – just after the guilty verdicts were delivered – Scarlett explained how she was dragged into another room where she feared she’d be raped, and her mother was almost suffocated with Clingfilm to silence her hysterical pleas for the robbers to leave her girl alone.

She had hired a team of men — among them a fantasist by the name of Paul Prior (pictured) who claimed to be an ex-SAS hitman — to stage a raid on her former lover's home

She had hired a team of men — among them a fantasist by the name of Paul Prior (pictured) who claimed to be an ex-SAS hitman — to stage a raid on her former lover’s home

‘All I could think of was Scarlett,’ says 54-year-old Priya. ‘I was begging them not to hurt her. I was so frightened that we would not get out alive,’ she recalls, shaking.

Thankfully, their lives were spared and the gang finally left, taking with them tens of thousands of pounds worth of goods. In the bewildering hours that followed, as she relived her ordeal in a three-hour police interview, one thought crystallised in Priya’s mind.

‘I had this lightbulb moment. I thought, ‘My God it’s HER. It has to be,’ ‘ she recalls.

‘Her’ was her husband’s former mistress, Karine Solloway, whom Priya had assumed was finally out of their lives. For three years, demonstrating incredible restraint, she’d turned a blind eye to Robert’s relationship with the 59-year-old Russian businesswoman.

Now, three years after the affair had ended, she was back and had exacted her revenge in the most terrible way. She had hired a team of men — among them a fantasist by the name of Paul Prior who claimed to be an ex-SAS hitman — to stage a raid on her former lover’s home.

Last month, the extraordinary drama reached its apex at Chester Crown Court where a jury took just two hours to convict Solloway of conspiracy to rob.

But at the family’s £1.5 million home, the events of October 6 last year are still painfully raw for all concerned.

When interviewed last month, both Scarlett and Priya were reflective and still obviously angry. Robert, meanwhile — a tall, clean-cut, outwardly patrician man — prefers to absent himself after bringing in tea and biscuits. ‘I think it is probably easier if I am not here for this,’ he mumbles.

Robert McKendrick with his children (left to right) Ella, Scarlett and Robbie on holiday in Tobago in 2000

Robert McKendrick with his children (left to right) Ella, Scarlett and Robbie on holiday in Tobago in 2000

Little wonder. While relations with his wife and daughter are cordial enough on the surface, there is no mistaking the depth of their feeling over his betrayal.

‘I tried so hard to make the marriage work but how much can you come back from?’ Priya says. ‘There is so much resentment that I cannot shake off. He has put us through so much.

‘I feel humiliated and I still don’t feel entirely safe in my own home. At the moment I can’t imagine I will ever fully forgive him.’

Nor, indeed, can Robert forgive himself.

Up until seven years ago, the McKendricks had enjoyed a gilded life. Married in 1991, the couple settled in Cheshire and took over Robert’s father’s textile business.

Their three children were all privately educated. Ella, 23 runs her own nutrition business; Robbie, 20, is studying at the London School of Economics; and Scarlett, who, despite her ordeal, went on to get three A-grade A-levels, is now also at the LSE studying finance and accounting.

There were expensive cars and luxury holidays. ‘I used to tell myself how lucky I was,’ says Priya.

Over the years, Robert’s business interests diversified into investment opportunities in Africa, which frequently took him abroad.

Despite her husband’s regular absences, Priya insists that she had no reason to doubt him. But, by 2010, he’d embarked on an affair with Karine Solloway after meeting her at an event at the Russian Embassy in London.

Robert McKenrick's ex-lover Karine Solloway ordered three men to invade his family's home in Cheshire

Robert McKenrick’s ex-lover Karine Solloway ordered three men to invade his family’s home in Cheshire

At the time, Karine — whose surname comes courtesy of her marriage to a British solicitor 24 years her senior — ran an upmarket private healthcare scheme for wealthy Russian expats.

In a bid to spare his wife any more pain, Robert refuses to discuss his feelings for Karine, simply describing her as ‘impressive’.

‘I think my wife and family have been through enough, don’t you?’ he says. ‘The simple fact is that this woman and I were both married and we began an affair. I’m not proud of it — I feel like a total rat — but these things happen.’

Notably, he will not use her name, referring to her instead as ‘The Russian’.

For many years, Robert lived a double life — a couple of weekday nights with his lover, long weekends with Priya.

Who knows how long that may have gone on were it not for the fact that, while on a family holiday in Ibiza in August 2013, his eldest daughter spotted a text message on her father’s phone.

‘We were all sitting at dinner and she asked him who he was texting a message with kisses to,’ Priya recalls. ‘Abruptly he said it was no one. But in that moment I knew.

‘I demanded to know what was going on. He confessed that he had been seeing this Russian woman for a while. I felt like throwing up. I asked him if he loved her and he didn’t reply,’ she recalls.

Over the following tortuous hours, Priya found out more. She learned that the affair had been going on for three years and that Karine had accompanied Robert on trips to Africa.

Nor, she discovered, was her love rival the 30-year-old siren of her imagination but, at 55, was four years her senior.

‘I didn’t know whether that made it worse or better,’ she says. ‘I do remember a message flashing up on Robert’s phone as we talked. It was from Karine and it said: ‘Remember this mantra: I love Karine.’ I said to him: ‘That is bunny boiler material.’ ‘

Still, Robert was smitten enough to admit he didn’t want to give his lover up, leading Priya to an astonishing decision.

Robert McKendrick with his wife, Priya, on the couple's wedding day at St Mary's Church in Stafford, 1991

Robert McKendrick with his wife, Priya, on the couple’s wedding day at St Mary’s Church in Stafford, 1991

‘I really loved him and I loved our family. I told myself she wasn’t going to ruin that. So I told him we would carry on as we were. I decided to throw myself back into the marriage.’

There was, however, another complicating factor: Robert’s work — which included a project called African Land, offering investors the chance to put money into thousands of acres of farmland in Sierra Leone and Liberia — had brought him to the attention of the Financial Conduct Authority watchdog and he was embroiled in an expensive legal action.

With mounting legal bills, Robert confided to his wife that Karine had loaned him £350,000, although it had, at least, been done through official legal channels.

By October 2013, the affair had fizzled out and Karine was demanding her money back — with heavy interest — amounting to £1 million. 

‘She would phone Robert and the house at all hours, leaving messages going on and on about the money even though the legal agreement made it quite clear that it would be paid back.

But we could only do it in chunks because it relied on the sale of our rental property portfolio’ recalls Priya. A month later, a careworn Priya decided to take matters into her own hands and arranged a meeting with her husband’s former mistress.

‘We met for a coffee in a cafe in London’s Marylebone,’ she says. ‘I was a nervous wreck. I wanted to take control of the situation, and told her she could be reassured she would get her money back, but it wouldn’t happen overnight. 

‘We parted on amicable terms — so much so that her parting shot was that in other circumstances we might even be friends.’

By now, though, the McKendricks were fighting fires on a number of fronts. In 2014, a High Court judge concluded that Robert’s African business schemes were illegal. 

Judgement is currently pending following a trial over the extent of his liability. Nonetheless, marital equilibrium was restored over the course of the ensuing two-and-a-half years.

‘It wasn’t always easy. We had a big court case going on, money was tight and I was still reeling from the fallout of the affair, as were the children. But we managed to stick together as a family,’ she recalls.

So much so that, shortly before the break-in, she recalls enjoying a moment of self-congratulation in the garden of their local pub one summer evening.

‘I told him that whatever had happened we had done well to keep our family together,’ she recalls.

But then came the robbery. Pinned down on the sofa after the trio of intruders invaded her home, Priya could only look on helplessly as her daughter was bundled out of the room before she was forced to kneel against the wall, bound, gagged and blindfolded.

‘I felt so powerless and I couldn’t understand what they wanted,’ she says now. 

Not until the ringleader — later identified as Paul Prior — cryptically told Priya: ‘I suggest if you owe money to the Russians, you pay that first.’

Priya says: ‘Karine did pop into my head but I knew we were paying her off so I thought it couldn’t be about her.’

Upstairs meanwhile, Scarlett had also been tied up, gagged and bound against a radiator.

‘I felt so terrified, but all I could do was focus on trying to stay calm,’ she says, recalling that night. ‘I was trying to strain my eyes and ears to listen for anything that might be useful to the police.’

Over the course of the next four hours, mother and daughter were escorted to different points in the house as the trio ransacked it.

Scarlett claims that, at one point, Paul Prior opened her dressing gown, pulled her legs apart and started to run his hand up her thigh. ‘I thought he was going to rape me,’ she says quietly.

‘He told me to be quiet but instinct took over and I screamed my heart out and tried to wrestle away.’ For reasons neither she nor Priya will ever know, the gang then suddenly fled.

‘I saw Mum shuffling towards me,’ recalls Scarlett. ‘She looked in such a state, covered in Clingfilm and duct tape. We just clung to each other and cried in relief.’

Priya’s first instinct was to call her husband. ‘To be honest, I hated him at that time. It felt like it was all his fault,’ she says.

Hard to argue with that. Robert, who received the news in a 5.30 am telephone call to his hotel room in Sierra Leone knew it too.

‘I knew that whatever happened had something to do with me, although at that point I didn’t believe it was the Russian. I had almost paid her back in full by then.

‘I felt pretty helpless being thousands of miles away. The call was one of the worst of my life. I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible.’

By now, Priya had called the police and their investigation was under way.

Her suspicion that her husband’s mistress was involved was confirmed when she returned to her ransacked home later.

TVs and laptops were left untouched, while Priya’s entire collection of expensive designer shoes and handbags — Jimmy Choos, a pair of Christian Louboutins — had all been taken.

‘That’s when I knew for sure it was her and, for the first time, I cried.

‘It wasn’t about my things. It was the realisation that this woman had wreaked such havoc on our lives. What kind of person could organise something like this knowing there was a teenage girl in the house?’

Two months after the robbery, in mid-December, Karine Solloway was arrested courtesy, in no small part, to Priya’s own sleuthing. Having been advised by police to monitor eBay, she found what she was sure were her thigh-high Jimmy Choo boots on sale. Then, clicking on the seller’s other items, she found eight of her designer possessions staring back.

The seller was linked to Paul Prior. A police raid on his home uncovered a veritable ‘Aladdin’s cave’ of goods from the McKendricks’ house. A study of Prior’s electronic devices meanwhile, showed extensive communication with Solloway in the run-up to the break-in.

She was charged with conspiracy to rob — a charge she denied. Prior, 34, admitted conspiracy to rob alongside co-conspirator Ian McGarry, 48, at an earlier hearing.

The third gang member Kimpton Mativenga, 31 denied the charge, and was convicted. 

During the trial, if Solloway felt any remorse, she didn’t show it.

‘She stared at me from the dock with a sneer on her face,’ says Priya.

Robert, for his part, insists that as he heard the guilty verdict he felt nothing towards her other than contempt. ‘I wish I had never met her, although of course it is a bit late for that,’ he says.

‘I just feel so guilty for putting my wife and children through this but no amount of apologies will ever be enough. She’s ruined the family.’

As we have seen, that is certainly true. Priya has now filed for divorce and while the couple continue to live reasonably amicably in the family home — in separate bedrooms — she knows that their future is no longer together.

‘Although I know Robert could never have foreseen this consequence, it’s so hard not to blame him for what happened,’ she says simply.

It’s a sentiment shared by Scarlett and her siblings who, though they still love their father, are struggling to forgive him.

‘The older I get, the harder I find it to accept what happened,’ Scarlett says.

It could, for all the family, be a lifetime’s work.