Playwright's mistress has no right to his estate

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The Independent Culture

An unseemly row between the women in Anthony Shaffer's life ended yesterday when the High Court dismissed a claim by the late playwright's mistress.

Shaffer, a celebrated writer and bon viveur, began a secret "intimate and loving relationship" with Jo Capece Minutolo three years before his death.

Insisting he had proposed to her, she took legal action seeking a slice of his multimillion-pound estate, a claim that was bitterly contested by his widow, former wife and two daughters.

But, at the end of the day, it was Shaffer's love of country, not women, which was called into question during the "emotional" five-day case.

The former mistress insisted Shaffer, who wrote the award-winning thriller Sleuth, had come once again to regard England as his home by the time of his death in November 2001 at the age of 75. Consequently, she claimed under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act.

But his widow, Diane Cilento - the actress he made his third wife after a "passionate relationship" on the set of his cult classic The Wicker Man - as well as his former spouse Carolyn Soley and her daughters Claudia, 40, and Cressida, 37, argued that he was domiciled in Australia, a country which makes no such provisions for other dependants.

The High Court heard that while he was an Englishman, Shaffer's "Castle" - the name he gave to his home set on a 200-acre estate - was in fact in Karnak, Queensland. He only kept a bachelor pad in London.

Jonathan Crystal, representing Ms Minutolo, argued that the "importance of women" in the playwright's life and his mistress led him to regard London as his permanent home.

Mr Justice Lewison ruled: "I am not persuaded that this was so. I do not doubt that relationships with women were important to Anthony, but I do not consider that they were geographically fixed."

While he had never applied for Australian citizenship, he paid his tax in the country and, the judge said: "He loved its landscapes, its vegetation and its bigness ... The bigness that Anthony loved was not just the physical size of the country, but what he saw as the big-heartedness of its people."

While Australia failed to fulfil his cultural needs and he retained membership of London clubs such as the Garrick, even his wife's "painful" discovery of his mistress was no evidence he had lost his intention to return to the southern hemisphere.

"If Shaffer had lived, perhaps he and Diane would have been reconciled. Perhaps they would have divorced. Perhaps he would have married Jo and settled in England.

"It may be that his intention to return to Queensland was withering. But I do not consider that it died before Anthony did," the judge said.

Shaffer's twin brother, the equally celebrated playwright Sir Peter, was executor of the estate but remained neutral during the court dispute.

Yesterday's ruling, however, will mean a considerably reduced tax liability on the late playwright's estate - as Queensland does not levy inheritance tax - and a substantial loss to the Inland Revenue.

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