'Haunted house' professor awarded pounds 71,000

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The Independent Online
A PROFESSOR who bought a hall reputed to be Britain's most haunted house won damages of more than pounds 71,000 yesterday from the barrister who sold it to him.

Professor Trevor Kirkham, a Canadian eye specialist from Montreal, was told by a High Court judge sitting at Liverpool that he should now be able to go back to court and evict the barrister, John Bruce, and his wife, who still live at Chingle Hall near Preston.

Judge Mark Hedley ruled in favour of Professor Kirkham, and said claims that the Grade I- listed, moated manor house - said to date back to 1263 - was haunted 'may well be a classic example of estate agent's licence'. The barrister spoke of the hall's business potential as a tourist attraction, which could be achieved with 'Bruce know-how and Kirkham money', the judge said.

Lancashire-born Professor Kirkham, 55, and his wife Judy, 41, paid pounds 300,000 for the hall in 1988 - though it had been valued at only pounds 235,000. But Mr Bruce's plans were 'grandiose' and 'wholly unworkable', the judge said. Professor Kirkham claimed he had fallen under the 'baneful influence' of a man who he thought - because of his status of barrister and background in commerce - was the epitome of integrity and sound judgement.

The judge ordered Mr Bruce, who was not in court, to disclose all his assets within 14 days and froze his assets up to pounds 71,000. He also ordered that interest should be paid to the Kirkhams.

Afterwards Professor Kirkham admitted: 'We were fools and we are quite prepared to accept that. With interest rates in England it was costing me nearly pounds 3,000 a month to keep this man in a house, living in luxury and paying no rent. We got suckered into doing everything he proposed to us and that was it.'

Ghost stories were one of the ways Mr Bruce claimed that the hall could make money by attracting tourists. 'I don't even believe in the paranormal,' Professor Kirkham said. 'We felt rage at first but now we try not to think about Mr Bruce at all. He is just a ghostly memory.'

He added that he had not visited the hall since July 1989, and was now hoping for a burst of inflation in the British house market so he could sell. Experts currently value it at only pounds 195,000.