A university lecturer today won her three-year legal battle against the RSPCA over the right to inherit her parents’ £2m farm. The bitterly-contested courtroom tussle has left both sides with enormous legal bills and could have important ramifications for charities which rely heavily on bequests to fund them.
The RSPCA insisted it had acted compassionately and is seeking leave to appeal against the ruling at the High Court in Leeds which found in favour of Dr Christine Gill. It ruled that her “domineering” father had coerced her mother into changing her will to leave 287 acre Potto Carr Farm near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, to the animal charity.
Dr Gill, 59, who teaches statistics at Leeds University, was shaking with relief after the judgment was handed down. “I don’t want to dwell on the past and I just want to move on now and live the rest of my life. I have been living in limbo for the past three years,” she said.
The academic had been repeatedly assured by her parents that she would inherit the farm. She and her husband bought a house next door to the property and she spent most of her free time over the past 30 years voluntarily helping tend animals and crops.
Neither of her parents, John and Joyce Gill, expressed support for the charity, she said. Her mother had been an avowed opponent of the RSPCA’s stance on hunting. But the court heard that Mrs Gill, who suffered from agoraphobia and panic disorder, was bullied into changing her will by her husband.
When Mr Gill died in 1999, aged 82, Dr Gill, an only child, was left to look after her mother and run the farm. She only became aware of the will when her mother died in 2006, also aged 82. But Dr Gill, who has a 12-year-old son, said she had been forced to re-mortgage her home and had been left with a legal bill approaching £1m after spending more than three weeks fighting her case in the High Court.
The RSPCA, whose legal costs are estimated at £400,000, said it was legally obliged to fight the case. “The will left by Dr Gill's parents was very clear - in one sentence they left their entire estate to the RSPCA, and in the next they said their daughter should receive nothing,” it said in a statement.