RSPCA told to pay lecturer's £1m legal bill in row over will

Victory for daughter whose mother left family farm to animal welfare charity

The RSPCA received a stinging rebuke from a judge yesterday and was ordered to pay an estimated £1m legal bill after it repeatedly refused offers of mediation during a long-running court battle over an estate that had been left to the charity in a contentious will.

Christine Gill, a university lecturer from Northallerton, North Yorkshire, fought a two-year legal battle with the animal charity after Potto Carr Farm, her parents' £2m estate near Northallerton, was left to the charity instead of her.

Last October a court declared the will invalid after evidence showed how Dr Gill's mother had often expressed her dislike of the charity and described it as "a bunch of townies who knew nothing about the countryside". The court also decided that Dr Gill's father had pressured his wife to change her will and disinherit her daughter.

Yesterday lawyers representing both sides went back to court in an attempt to divide up the enormous legal costs for the case, which have run to £1.3m and taken up more than 2,000 lawyer hours. In the end Judge James Allen decided to punish the RSPCA for "unreasonable" behaviour and displaying "a lack of enthusiasm in relation to the resolution of the dispute by a negotiated settlement".

The court heard how Dr Gill had tried to reach a negotiated settlement with the RSPCA on three separate occasions but each time its lawyers refused to compromise. In August 2007 Dr Gill offered to give the RSPCA £350,000 as well as two fields and payment costs but she was rebuffed. In return the RSPCA offered her £50,000, which she also rejected.

A month later Dr Gill returned with an improved offer which would have given the RSPCA almost £1.8m of the £2.3m estate but this was also rejected. In June 2008 Dr Gill tried another attempt to avoid going to court and offered the animal charity part of the farm worth approximately £850,000 and all the money in bank accounts connected to the estate. This was also not accepted by the charity.

The exact costs to be paid out by the charity will be decided at a hearing next week but the RSPCA, which has assets worth £160m, is likely to be landed with at least £1m of the total legal bill.

Speaking after the hearing yesterday Dr Gill said she was relieved to know that the majority of costs would be paid for by the charity.

"The judgment reflects the attitude the RSPCA have taken right through this. They wouldn't talk to me ever," she said.

"After last October's judgment, the RSPCA attempted to justify its stance by saying it was obliged under charity law to defend the claim to trial, that it was a compassionate organisation and that I was the barrier to settlement. Today's decision sets the record straight."

The RSPCA, which the judgment stated would be able to recover some of its costs from the estate, said it had acted in accordance with the wishes of Dr Gill and had no reason to doubt her intentions.

In a statement, a spokeswoman said: "At this stage no specific sums have been calculated so we don't yet know what either bill will be. However, we are happy that the judge has ordered that some of our costs are to come out of the estate and that we are not paying the whole of Dr Gill's legal costs."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Sport
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
football
News
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
video
Voices
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London
voicesLondon’s housing crisis amounts to an abuse of human rights, says Grace Dent
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operations & Logistics Manager

£38000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's best performing...

Recruitment Genius: GeoDatabase Specialist - Hazard Modelling

£35000 - £43000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our award-winning client is one...

Recruitment Genius: Compressed Air Pipework Installation Engineer

£15000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Atlas ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Pallet Network

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Opportunity to join established...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea