Founder of VIP club ‘raped young member of staff after hotel vodka drinking session’, court hears
- Billy Brannigan allegedly attacked woman with cook Chris Agathocleous in 1997
The founder of a VIP club and its head chef raped a young member of staff after plying her with vodka, a court heard yesterday.
Billy Brannigan, who ran the exclusive Cobden Club once popular with stars including Kate Moss and Jade Jagger, allegedly attacked the woman with cook Chris Agathocleous after she ‘passed out’ in a seedy hotel room in 1997.
Yesterday, the woman told how she woke to find Brannigan, now 61, and Agathocleous, now 55, on top of her before freeing herself and fleeing naked and terrified from the hotel.
When she reported the assault the next day to the club’s managing director Luke Johnson, then chairman of Pizza Express, he offered her vouchers for the restaurant chain in compensation, jurors heard.
The woman, who cannot be named, was in her early 20s and had just finished university when she was offered a glamorous front-of-house job at the Cobden Club in 1997.
Billy Brannigan (pictured), who ran the exclusive Cobden Club once popular with stars including Kate Moss and Jade Jagger, allegedly attacked the woman with cook Chris Agathocleous after she ‘passed out’ in a seedy hotel room in 1997
She told Southwark Crown Court in south London: ‘It seemed brilliant, I was given all these outfits to wear.
It was a very elegant, very trendy place,’ she said. [Brannigan] was a bit of a celebrity in Notting Hill. One night after work I had some drinks with Brannigan and the head chef.
‘They were friends and work colleagues. We finished work, closed the club and went to a hotel in Paddington. We got a room, a bottle of vodka and did some shots. There was no sex or kissing or flirting involved.
‘We were, in my mind, just friends having a drink after work.
‘They were both married men, I worked with them. I didn’t feel vulnerable around them. We were just having fun.’
She said she got ‘drunk enough to pass out’ and got into one of the single beds in the room.
‘The next thing I knew, I woke up to find I had been undressed and had two men on top of me, raping me,’ she added.
‘They must have seen me go to sleep and at that moment decided to take advantage of me. I was in complete and utter shock, I didn’t know what was going on.
‘I was completely horrified and frightened.’
The Cobden Club (pictured) opened in Notting Hill, west London, in 1996
The woman told the court she ‘ran out into the street fully naked’ and took a black cab home.
She said: ‘The next day, I went into work and told Luke Johnson what had happened. He made me write a statement.
‘He fired them immediately that day, offered me some Pizza Express vouchers, and that was the end of the situation.
‘I became quite unwell over the next couple of weeks and suffered impetigo all over my face.
‘I was terrified to go to the police. I regret it so much.’ Brannigan and Agathocleous each deny a single charge of rape. The alleged victim said she finally plucked up the courage to report the incident after telling a new boyfriend about it in 2020.
The Cobden Club opened in Notting Hill, west London, in 1996. Its members included author Will Self and TV stars Amanda de Cadenet and Mariella Frostrup. The late Amy Winehouse sang there regularly during the early part of her career.
It was founded by Brannigan and funded by investor Mr Johnson, also the brains behind Pizza Express. He is not accused of any crime. The club closed in 2010.
The trial continues.