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Son loses battle over family farm

4 April 2012

A farmer’s son who claims he was promised ownership of the family’s £1.2m farm has lost his appeal over being left out of his father’s will, according to the BBC.

Alan Shirt claims his late father, Stanley, told him in 1986 that Syda Farm, near Chesterfield, was his if he “worked for it” and he subsequently “committed his entire working life” to keeping it going.

However, when Stanley died in 2011, he left his estate to Alan’s three siblings, despite their choice to make their own way in life rather than work the land with their father.

Appeal court judges heard how Alan Shirt had formed a farming partnership with his father and mother in 1974 and had worked there since the 1960s, without receiving proper wages, in the expectation that he would be given the farm on his father’s death. But in April 2006 he was removed from his father’s will after the pair fell out, due to the “antipathy” Stanley held towards Alan Shirt’s second wife.

Mr Shirt senior also mounted a legal bid to have his son evicted from the farm.

In December 2010 Judge Charles Purle QC at Birmingham High Court presided over the bid to evict Alan Shirt and a counterclaim from Mr Shirt to say the farm belonged to him. The eviction bid failed and the judge also said the “promises” alleged by Mr Shirt “were not made in sufficiently clear terms” to amount to binding obligations, the BBC reported.

During his appeal hearing against the earlier decision, Alan Shirt’s barrister, Christopher McNall, argued that: “By his work in expectation, he [Mr Shirt] had earned a legal right to the farm.”

Lord Justice Lewison, sitting with Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice McFarlane, dismissed the appeal. Lewison LJ told the court: “The parties are arguing about a conversation that took place 24 years before the trial.”

He said formal documents detailing land ownership “exist for good reason - to prevent expensive disputes about half-remembered conversations, which took place many years before the dispute crystallised”.

The ruling left the way open for him to make a claim against his father’s estate for the loss of his tenancy of another farm.

Alan Shirt is now considering making a compensation claim in the High Court, according to the BBC’s report.

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Wills, Trusts & Probate