'Witch' wins battle with stepchildren for husband's £7m estate

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A widow has won a legal battle with her late husband's three children over the validity of his £7m will.

A widow has won a legal battle with her late husband's three children over the validity of his £7m will.

The Court Of Appeal has overturned a High Court ruling which last year stripped Yvonne Sherrington, the children's stepmother, of half the estate. During the course of the original trial, Mrs Sherrington's character and marriage were severely criticised by the presiding judge who found the second marriage to her late husband, Richard, to be "sour" and accepted evidence that Richard referred to her as "Hitler" and a "witch".

At that trial, Mr Justice Lightman described Mrs Sherrington as "aggressive and intolerant" and said her husband, a solicitor, had told friends the marriage was "the biggest mistake of my life".

But, in a statement yesterday, the widow, 56, expressed relief at the Appeal Court ruling. She also described her deep distress at the original trial judge's comments - made as he declared that the will, drawn up by Mrs Sherrington's daughter from a previous marriage, was invalid.

Speaking at the appeal, her solicitor, Geoffrey Goldkorn, said: "She was crushed by the judgment in the court below and the very scathing remarks made of her by the trial judge. She loved Richard Sherrington dearly and he in turn loved her."

Reinstating the will, which leaves nothing to the three children of Mr Sherrington's first marriage, Lord Justice Peter Gibson, on behalf of the appeal judges, said: "We acknowledge that what has been said against the successful appellant in the course of these hearings will have been extremely hurtful to her."

But the judges called on Mrs Sherrington to be "merciful" to the three children who now face a £750,000 legal bill from the proceedings.

The three, Daliah, 30, Donna, 27, and Ramon, 21, were unhappy after learning the will had been drawn up by Mrs Sherrington's daughter, Nathalie Walker, who had no legal qualifications. The widow claimed that she and her late husband had agreed to leave everything to each other and trust them to make provision for their respective children. The will was witnessed by an office cleaner, who spoke very little English, and it was signed by Mr Sherrington as he dashed to the airport for a holiday in France. He died a few weeks later, aged 56, in a car crash on the M25 motorway. The children insisted that he would not have failed to provide for them in the event of his death. Mrs Sherrington said there was ample security available in the form of life insurance policies.

The appeal judges said Mr Justice Lightman's decision that Mr Sherrington did not know or approve the contents of the will was "simply contrary to all probability and beyond belief". But they tempered the decision by saying it had been reached with "regret" and that it would have been fairer for the estate to be split between Mrs Sherrington and the children as under the original ruling.

Mr Goldkorn said his client was considering the judges' call for her to show financial mercy to her stepchildren.

He said: "She was disappointed that the children, supported by their mother, Gloria, chose to challenge their father's will. Sadly this caused unnecessary bitterness and hostility. She earnestly hopes that in the light of the judgment this can now all be set aside and that everyone can get on with their lives."

The children were refused leave to take the case to the House of Lords but are considering petitioning the Law Lords for a hearing.