Son of Annabel's founder to challenge father's will

Robin Birley claims his father Mark was not of sound mind when he slashed millions from his estranged son's inheritance
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The Independent Online

The son of society bar impresario Mark Birley, the former owner of the legendary Mayfair nightclub Annabel's, is set to fight in court for a larger share of his family's fortune, claiming his father was not in a sound state of mind when he slashed millions of pounds from his son's inheritance.

Robin Birley was not on speaking terms with his father when he died three months ago, but it emerged yesterday that peace talks had been discussed just before Mark Birley died, one of his closest confidants confirmed. The friend claimed that the older member of the Birley clan was desperate to end their feud.

David Wynne-Morgan, who worked with the nightclub owner for more than 40 years, said: "The day before he died, Mark said: 'This thing with Robin really can't go on. We really need to have a rapprochement.'"

Robin was left around £1m in the will, but that figure is dwarfed by the inheritance of his nephew Eben, the two-year-old son of his sister, India Jane. She has taken control of the funds raised by the sale of their father's clubland empire in London to fashion tycoon Richard Caring, for £102m, shortly before Mr Birley's death.

At one stage the money was to be shared equally between Robin and India Jane, 45. Sources said the two now talk only through legal representatives. "They walked side by side at the funeral and India Jane made noises that Robin would be looked after," said one. "But he hasn't heard about it since... Robin feels he has been wronged; I think most people agree with him."

Talks are likely to centre on what is meant by "of sound mind". Mr Birley, who was 77 when he died, was known to have difficulty with his short-term memory. If the matter goes to court, several doctors could be asked to give evidence.

Robin's relations with his father became strained when he took over as manager of Annabel's, having been persuaded to sell up his sandwich-bar franchise in San Francisco. The club is named after Mark's then wife Annabel, who later divorced him and married the financier Sir James Goldsmith. Her children, Jemima Khan (left) and Zac Goldsmith, are Robin's half-siblings.

Friends said Robin had told his father that he could not live on a salary of £100,000 a year and he agreed to halve his wages in return for 5 per cent of profits. When this money was paid, Mr Birley said he could not remember the deal and thought his son had been acting improperly.

"It was a sad situation, where I think everybody was telling the truth," said one source. "Robin probably had made that arrangement with his father and his father just couldn't remember it."

Robin, who was mauled by a tiger cub when he was a child, was sacked after it emerged he hired a private detective to investigate India Jane's personal life. Even worse, the spy turned out to be a fraudster who collected £200,000 for fake information.