Millionaire's family drops lawsuit against man who inherited fortune

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A law student arrested on suspicion of murdering a wealthy elderly friend ended a legal wrangle with the dead man's family yesterday, leaving him nearly £1m richer.

The family of Lawrence Dabbs ended its legal attempts to prevent John Hart inheriting the dead man's £1.4m estate after he offered the relatives 35 per cent of the estate.

Mr Hart and his wife, Helen, were arrested during a murder inquiry after Mr Dabbs, 74, was found dead in a fume-filled garage in Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Police initially treated the death as suicide. Mr Dabbs's death came one month after Mr Hart, 41, allegedly supervised the drawing up of the will in August 1996, in which he was the main beneficiary.

Mr Dabbs's family complained to police when details of the will were disclosed. His five brothers and sisters then took legal steps to have the document annulled.

An inquest jury later returned a verdict of unlawful killing but, despite police sending two sets of papers to the Crown Prosecution Service, Mr Hart was not charged because of insufficient evidence. Nobody has been charged over the death.

The Dabbs family's attempts to have the will annulled failed in the High Court and yesterday a Court of Appeal hearing was called off after Mr Hart's lawyers offered the family about £490,000of the inheritance.

John McDonnell QC, representing the family, had told Lords Justices Kennedy, Chadwick and Rix that there was "considerable suspicion" surrounding the preparation and execution of the will.

He said Mr Hart, who was studying for a law degree at the University of Sheffield, had actively supervised the drawing up of the will on a computer at his parents' home.

Mr Hart, of Heanor, Derbyshire, told police during interviews that he only knew a few details of the will before Mr Dabbs died.

Mr Dabbs had no children and, if the will had been declared invalid, his money would have gone to his brothers and sisters ­ Thomas Dabbs, Derrick Dabbs, Hazel Timms, Phyllis Abbott and Joyce Goodrich.

Mr Hart claimed that Mr Dabbs treated him like a son and had fallen out with the rest of his family.

None of the family commented after yesterday's settlement. Mr Hart was not at the hearing.