Melissa Biggs was able to strap her newborn daughter in her car seat during the first few weeks after her child’s birth and drive off to Sir Benjamin Slade’s 13th century manor house.

The admin assistant was on maternity leave with Maisie just a few days before Christmas 2017. 

Melissa felt that Slade was the only option, given she wasn’t paid in two months and that Sir Benjamin didn’t return her calls.

Melissa, 31, recalls that she placed Maisie’s car seat in front of her desk so he could see it. Melissa also asked when I’d be paid. 

It was two years ago that Melissa and fellow employee Roxanne Stewart, 31, won their sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal case against one of Britain's most flamboyant aristocrats. Not that either has seen a penny of their £179,500 compensation

Roxanne Stewart, 31, and Melissa were both 31 when Roxanne won the case against Roxanne. It involved sexual discrimination and unfair dismissal. Not that either has seen a penny of their £179,500 compensation

“He looked straight through her as though she were dead and then said, “I have more important bills to pay.” I was aware then that I was in for a tough fight.

It was quite a battle. Roxanne Stewart, 31, and Melissa won their case for sexual discrimination against Britain’s most extravagant aristocrats two years ago.

Not that either has seen a penny of their £179,500 compensation. Two women found out last week that Slade was trying to avoid paying them damages.

The Mail has an exclusive interview where the women discuss the shocking treatment they received by Slade, a notorious self-publicist. They also talk about the terrible impact that his behavior had on their lives.

Slade was accused of having a ‘vindictive wish’ to get rid women of their babies after finding out they were pregnant. He also failed to pay the woman’s medical bills, committing ‘one the most outrageous acts of discrimination’. 

He referred to their maternity pay as ‘f***ing entitlements’ and also claimed the two women had ‘got pregnant together on purpose just to spite him’.

Roxanne, who gave birth in December 2017 to Berrie three months after Melissa’s daughter Maisie was born.

Last week, it emerged that he had been quizzed by police after a huge cannabis farm was found at Woodlands Castle, one of the properties on his 1,300-acre estate in Ruishton, Somerset. Slade was not charged with any offences relating to the discovery, but a 39-year-old Vietnamese man found at the property during the raid has been found guilty of producing cannabis

Police quizzed him last week after discovering that his estate, Ruishton in Somerset, contained a massive cannabis farm. Slade wasn’t charged for any offenses related to this discovery. However, a Vietnamese-American man aged 39 was found at Woodlands Castle during the raid and found guilty of manufacturing cannabis.

Slade employed the woman for 10 years. She went into labor prematurely two months before her due date and was dismissed while she was in intensive care.

Roxanne lives in Somerset near Bridgwater with Jack, her dairy farmer partner, and their children. His behavior towards us was inhumane and disgusting. “We believe that we were made worthless for having been pregnant.”

Melissa says, “His mistake was believing that we were little people who would simply do what he told us.” His title gave him power and he thought that he controlled us.

This is not the only trouble for Slade, who has a history that goes back to Alfred The Great. Happy to court controversy when he is seeking publicity — in 2006, he advertised for a ‘castle-trained’ wife to provide him with ‘an heir and a spare’ — Slade finds himself in the glare of a more unwelcome spotlight.

It was revealed that Slade had been arrested by police following the discovery of a large cannabis farm at Woodlands Castle. This property is one of his 1,300 acres in Ruishton (Staynton). Slade wasn’t charged for any offenses related to this discovery. However, a Vietnamese-American man aged 39 was found at Woodlands Castle during the raid and has been found guilty in producing cannabis.

Woodlands Castle is ironic because it was where Roxanne and Melissa had been working for Slade. They helped to manage a venue rental business and wedding. The pandemic brought an end to all of this.

A police drug expert claimed that Woodlands Castle was the largest known and most dangerous illegal cannabis farm he had ever seen. During the raid, police found 3,500 cannabis plants with a potential street value of £1.4 million, stuffed into 23 rooms on three floors.

The 2019 tribunal heard that Slade, filled with a 'vindictive desire' to get rid of the women after learning they were both pregnant, had failed to pay them, carrying out 'one of the most egregious acts of discrimination possible'

Slade had a venditive desire to kill the women and failed to pay the money, according to the 2019 tribunal.

The baronet has had a very busy year. It was revealed that he had been engaged to Sahara Sunday Spain (29), a daughter of Johnny Spain, a former Black Panther gangster. Slade, who is now single and lives in a farmhouse at his estate, may be once again living with someone else.

Roxanne joined Woodlands as a receptionist in July 2008. It’s a 200-year-old, pink-tinted country residence set in 12 acres in the parkland. Before becoming a receptionist, she worked as a bar and catering assistant.

Crystal was her first child. She had her second baby in 2013. Crystal went to full-time childcare and she came back to work six weeks later. The following year she was promoted to deputy manager on a salary of £25,000 plus commission, responsible for generating new business.

According to her, ‘I didn’t have any problems at all with him at that time’. However, she remembers that he used patronizingly patted her on her head and called her a “good girl”, when he felt like praising her. She replied, “I hated it, but it was something I didn’t mind.” 

“He was quite eccentric and crazy, but I worked hard to get him work and he liked my work. It was something I loved.

It was Roxanne who interviewed Melissa for the £18,500-a-year post of administration assistant in May 2015. Slade also interviewed Melissa.

Melissa says that her first impression of James was one of an eccentric and harmless person. She lives in Taunton, Massachusetts with James, 30, Maisie (4 years old), and Reuben (1 year). He likes to show the public that side. Later, however, I discovered a different side of him. He was vindictive and certainly not innocent.

In 2017, problems started for the ladies. After having suffered an early miscarriage, Melissa was set to give birth to Roxanne in November 2017. Roxanne would have given birth to Roxanne in January 2018. However, Melissa succumbed in August 2017 and she gave birth eight weeks earlier than expected.

In September and October, she received her statutory maternity leave. This entitles new mothers to 90 per cent of their salary for the first six weeks and then a maximum of £151.97 a week for the next 33 weeks. The employer pays it and HMRC then claims back the money.

Roxanne was also pregnant at 20 weeks in March. Slade may have known because Roxanne was sent flowers and a card from Sir Ben and his team while at work. She suspects that they were organized in the name of a female staff member.

Roxanne, one month after Melissa gave birth pretermly in October, told Slade that she was pregnant.

“He had absolutely no reaction.” He didn’t congratulate me,’ says Roxanne. He instead asked Roxanne if she was interested in becoming self-employed or moving to zero-hours contracts as part of the’restructuring of’ his company.

He knew that my maternity payments would be covered if I did that. After I came back from maternity leave, I told him I would reconsider it.

Roxanne didn’t get her salary for November 2017. Melissa was in and out hospital with her daughter and she wasn’t getting her maternity pay. Slade was contacted and she heard about the restructuring of her company.

The next month, the same happened. James, her husband was studying to become an accountant. They were therefore dependent upon her income to pay their mortgages and other bills.

She says that she met with Slade in a crunch meeting just before Christmas and she eventually called arbitration service ACAS.

Melissa says, “It was terrible.” It was a terrible time for Maisie’s first Christmas. Our family was struggling and used credit cards and overdrafts to get by. It was extremely stressful. When Roxanne asked why she hadn’t been paid, she was falsely accused of ‘irregularities to catering requirements’ and suspended — supposedly on full pay. She says, “I was shocked.” “I worked there almost ten year, only to have been treated like this.”

According to Melissa, it was no accident that her premature labor occurred just hours prior to a meeting. Melissa was at her visit when she noticed that she had started bleeding.

She said, “I went into the bathroom,” Mel was able to dispatch an ambulance. “I thought that I would lose another child.”

She still was so scared about her job losing it that she called Slade’s office while she was caring for her baby in ICU to inform them she would not be able attend the meeting. When she recalls the handwritten note she received on her day of bringing home her baby from the hospital, she breaks down and weeps.

“The worst thing about it,” she said, was that Berrie and I had to make difficult bonds. I felt like my life was being turned upside-down by the new baby. It was impossible to think clearly.

Slade was sued in 2011 by another woman employee. He thought the women would go away peacefully. In 2019, a Bristol employment tribunal saw his deplorable behavior for the first time. The two women complained to him after he threatened to file a theft report against them. He maliciously blamed premature births on the women’s drinking habits and smoking.

Melissa says she has lost confidence in employers after working two nights per week as a waitress. “I put all my effort into his job, but he reacted negatively to it.”

Roxanne suffered the same fate when she started looking for work. She broke down during interviews when asked why she quit her previous job. Roxanne works as a customer service administrator full-time.

When the women won their case in 2019, the tribunal awarded Roxanne £108,744 and Melissa, £70,760. Slade unsuccessfully appealed against a £26,500 ‘uplift’ fee included in that amount because of the severity of the case.

They don’t have closure until he gives them back the money. They will never get their four-year-old daughters back, which was marred by anxiety and crippling fear.

Roxanne said that he has been so vindictive in his behavior. The legal fees he had to incur have outweighed the maternity pay he would have received back from his Government. He is not qualified to hold a title.

Slade attempted to keep his estate afloat over the past decade by renting Woodlands and Maunsel House, his manor house with 17 bedrooms, out of his five-mile radius. But last year, he advertised for someone to share the manor house: ‘Good Right-wing, hunting, shooting types with a love of fine wine and £20,000 a month to pay their way.’

Also, he offered to sell his property as a Covid national test center. This year, he put Maunsel House up for sale for £30 million.

When contacted via his lawyer, Slade said he had no comment — but that he was considering appealing the judgment.

Woodlands Castle can help you realize your dreams, he boasted once on his website. How empty these words now seem as Roxanne and Melissa wait to get the thousand he owes.