April 29, 2022

RWK Goodman secures landmark ruling on £1m inheritance case

Law firm RWK Goodman has secured a landmark ruling that has seen a will to be held invalid on the grounds that it was obtained fraudulently and through undue influence. Known as ‘fraudulent calumny’, it is only the third court ruling of its kind since 2007.

The decision was delivered by District Judge Tony Woodburn in the Bristol High Court on 12 April, who described it as a “disgraceful” and “appalling” attempt to cut rightful beneficiary out of will.

Amanda Noyce, partner and Head of the Inheritance Disputes Team at RWK Goodman says who advised David Whittle said:

“Fraud and undue influence take place behind closed doors and is very difficult to prove to the standard necessary to overturn a will.

“However, in this case there was a written record of the various allegations being made by Sonia against David and his wife to Gerald. There was also medical evidence as to Gerald’s frailty and physical vulnerability at the time. This is a significant ruling and rights a serious wrong.”

Case details

Gerald Whittle, 92, died in 2016 just three weeks after executing his will. He had two children, Sonia and David Whittle, appointing Sonia and her partner, Ray Spicer, as executors. Apart from a bequest to David of Gerald’s old cars, the entire estate, valued at approximately £1m was left to Sonia and Ray.

To take instructions for the will, Gerald’s solicitors sent a trainee legal executive to his house. Sonia told the legal executive that David and his wife Julie were “psychopaths and criminals” who had stolen large sums of money from Julie`s mother.

Sonia added that David had been looking for Gerald’s bank details whilst he had been in hospital, that he had stolen Gerald’s antiques and his classic cars, and that David and Julie had forced their way into Gerald’s house and the police had issued a harassment order against them.

District Judge Tony Woodburn described none of this to be true and described the behaviour of Sonia Whittle as “disgraceful” and “appalling”.

In the month preceding Gerald’s death, David and Sonia visited Gerald in a care home. David overheard Sonia telling their father that he had stolen money from his mother-in-law and that he was a violent man who assaulted women. When David confronted Sonia on these lies, she left the room, verbally abusing her brother.

The judge found that Sonia had knowingly “peddled falsehoods” about David and his wife and Sonia had unduly influenced her father to cut his son David out of his will – a legal concept called ‘fraudulent calumny’.

Amanda Noyce adds:

“The team at RWK Goodman systematically disproved all the allegations that Sonia had made about her brother. We found evidence the antiques she alleged had been stolen by David, in fact had been sold by local auctioneers at Sonia`s instruction. David had worked, until retirement, in a highly vetted position and Disclosure and Barring Service certificates proved that neither he nor his wife had ever been involved in any illegality.

“This has been a terrible ordeal for David and Julie, who have endured intense emotional trauma on every level. They were very close to Gerald, saw him very regularly and were central to his care in his later years. Sonia sought to poison her brother’s relationship with their father and, furthermore, to cut contact between Gerald and David right at the very end, when Gerald was most vulnerable and most in need of his son’s love and care.

“She even refused to allow the medical authorities and social services to let David know when their father had died. It was not until two months after Gerald`s death that David eventually found out - after much increasingly frantic searching and investigation.

“We were lucky we had more evidence than is usually available in these sorts of cases. The fact remains that it is often far too easy for malign individuals unduly to influence elderly and vulnerable people and all too often they succeed in their intentions to take advantage, effectively denying the ‘true’ beneficiaries their rightful inheritance.”

David Whittle was represented by Charles Auld of St John`s Chambers, Bristol.

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