Court told of rift in battle over £7m will

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The stepdaughter of a wealthy lawyer whose fortune is the subject of a High Court dispute claimed yesterday that he had endured a "strained relationship" with his own children.

The stepdaughter of a wealthy lawyer whose fortune is the subject of a High Court dispute claimed yesterday that he had endured a "strained relationship" with his own children.

Nathalie Walker, whose step-father Richard Sherrington bequeathed his entire fortune to her mother, his second wife, Yvonne, made the claim in a witness statement during the High Court hearing.

Miss Walker, a doctor in plant ecology, also described how she used legal manuals to draw up a new will for Mr Sherrington seven weeks before his death in a car crash in October 2001.

Mr Sherrington, 56, who ran the north London law firm that bears his name and the loan company Barex Brokers, left a personal fortune estimated at £7m after payments of debts on his £10m estate.

While his estate was bequeathed to his second wife Yvonne, his three children from his first marriage were left nothing, which they claimed was in breach of promises made by their father.

His children Dahlia, 30, Donna, 27, and Ramon, 21, subsequently launched legal action claiming that the contents of the will were "suspicious" and are urging the High Court to challenge its validity.

Yesterday, the court heard how his stepdaughter Miss Walker was acutely aware of apparent tensions between her father and the children from his previous marriage.

However, she claimed that her mother had urged her husband to "mend bridges" as far as possible in terms of his relationships with them.

"I think that I was aware almost from the very start of my acquaintance with the deceased that he had a strained relationship with his own children, particularly his two daughters," she said in her evidence. "The most startling thing was that they did not come to the wedding, even though it was a big occasion."

Miss Walker claimed that she was the first person to ask her mother whether the couple had made new wills, before they allegedly discussed the matter and decided to leave everything to each other. Under cross-examination by Elspeth Talbot Rice, representing the children, Miss Walker expressed her concern about this arrangement as it would result in the flat in which she was living in north-west London falling into the hands of her stepfather if her mother died.

When she telephoned Mr Sherrington to voice her reservations, she told the court that he reassured her that "we were just one big family".

Miss Walker claimed that her stepfather trusted his wife to look after his children if he died just as much as he would care for her children if she was the first to die.

On 7 September 2001 Miss Walker drafted a new will for Mr Sherrington leaving his entire estate to his second wife and nothing to the three children from his first marriage.

While Miss Walker admitted she had no legal qualifications, she claimed that her stepfather had encouraged her to draw up the documents and had provided her with a wills manual.

When asked why Mr Sherrington, who ran a firm of solicitors with a wills expert partner, would ask her to draft such a document, she told the court: "I was not told why. I believe he didn't want the people in the office to know about his personal things."

The hearing will continue today after a new witness contacted authorities after reading media reports of the case. The witness has been called by the children and following his evidence, Yvonne Sherrington will return to the witness box.