Solicitors sued over millionaire's will

Court battle: Student alleges negligence by top firm in UK

Britain's biggest firm of solicitors is being sued in the High Court next week for alleged negligence over the will of Belgravia property developer Eric Hopton.

Clifford Chance, which with 240 partners in 23 countries is also the second largest solicitors firm in the world, is being sued by 22-year- old university student Dominic Trusted, who is the great-nephew of Eric Hopton and a potential beneficiary of his will.

Among the witnesses who are expected to appear in court are George Staple, the head of the Serious Fraud Office and a former partner at Clifford Chance, and Rona, Lady Delves Broughton, whose father-in-law, Sir Jock Delves Broughton, was acquitted of murdering the Earl of Erroll in a case that inspired the 1987 film White Mischief.

The case revolves around the multi-million pound estate left by Mr Hopton, who died in 1991 before completing a new will. Mr Hopton, whose Belgravia Property Company was sold for pounds 48.5m to Elliott Bernerd, owner of the Wentworth Club, died aged 72 of a heart attack.

Mr Hopton's younger brother John died in 1978 leaving two sons and a sister, Eileen, Dominic Trusted's mother.

His will was neither completed nor signed, and Mr Trusted, as a potential beneficiary, alleges negligence over the way in which the new will was handled. He is suing for more than pounds 1m.

The defendants in the action are Clifford Chance and one of its partners, solicitor David Bowyer, who handled the affairs relating to Mr Hopton's will. Mr Staple was Mr Hopton's solicitor in all other matters.

A separate but related action brought by a close friend of Mr Hopton, Lady Delves Broughton, which was also begun in December 1993, has been discontinued.

Lady Delves Broughton, 55, a Lloyd's of London council member, was a director of Mr Hopton's property company and nursed him through his final illness. He and her late husband, Sir Evelyn Delves Broughton, had been friends at Eton.

She dropped her action, which was claiming pounds 500,000 over the uncompleted will, earlier this month.

Her solicitors, Goodman Derrick, said yesterday that she had "made a contribution" of pounds 175,000 to Clifford Chance's costs.

Perry Simson, one of the partners at Clifford Chance, said yesterday: "We have been advised by counsel and the solicitors acting for us that the claim will fail and that it will be vigorously contested."

Mr Trusted, a student at Edinburgh University, is receiving legal aid to fight the court action. He declined to comment yesterday.

The case, which will begin in the High Court next Tuesday, is expected to last about three weeks.