A former Preston businessman who owes his ex-wife £400,000 as part of a divorce settlement faces a six-week jail term if he doesn’t pay up, Appeal Court judges have ruled.

David Topping, formerly a leading figure at Preston-based Cresta Furniture Ltd and now living in Southern Spain, was accused by Lord Justice Tuckey of “deliberately attempting, by all means, to avoid his obligations”.

London's Civil Appeal Court heard that Mr Topping’s ex-wife, Kathryn had suffered serious health and financial problems due to her on-going dispute with her former husband.

The court heard that in January 2006 Mr Topping agreed to pay his ex-wife a lump sum of £400,000, but hadn’t done so. In June this year a Manchester County Court judge ordered Mr Topping’s committal to prison for 42 days, unless he paid up within 21 days.

Mr Topping claimed that he did not have the means to pay his ex-wife, but the judge said the home he shares with his new wife in Marbella, had been valued at 1.5 million Euros (around one million pounds) and ruled that he had the ability to pay "substantially more than £400,000".

Mr Topping lodged an appeal against that decision, but did not appear at the Appeal Court.

The businessman had written to the court, saying that he was suffering from a potentially life-threatening “leaky” heart valve and and that he had undergone an investigatory operation in Blackpool last week.

However, refusing to adjourn the hearing and dismissing Mr Topping's appeal, the judge said his legal complaints were “wholly without merit” and the time had come for his dispute with his ex-wife to be “finally resolved”.

An order will have to be served on Mr Topping in Spain who would then have 21 days to pay his ex-wife or the jail term will come into effect.