Lawyer left £10m to his wife despite 'awful' state of marriage

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A wealthy lawyer who bequeathed his £10m estate to his second wife in a will drafted weeks before his death described his second marriage as "the biggest mistake of his life", the High Court heard yesterday.

A wealthy lawyer who bequeathed his £10m estate to his second wife in a will drafted weeks before his death described his second marriage as "the biggest mistake of his life", the High Court heard yesterday.

Richard Sherrington, 56, who excluded his children from his will, had reportedly confided in a friend about the "awful" state of his marriage.

The High Court dispute is centred on Mr Sherrington's will, which was drawn up by the legally unqualified daughter of his second wife seven weeks before he was killed in a car crash in October 2001.

Three children from his first marriage - Dahlia, 30, Donna, 27, and Ramon, 21 - were suspicious of the will and launched the court proceedings to challenge its validity.

Yesterday, in an unexpected development, the scheduled closure of the case was delayed to enable an eleventh-hour witness to give evidence.

The late lawyer's friend David Lewis, a yacht broker, intervened after reading newspaper reports that Yvonne had claimed in court that the couple were "deeply in love".

Mr Lewis told the court that the lawyer had confided that Yvonne was allegedly only interested in his money and referred to her as a "witch".

Describing their first encounter at the London Boat Show in 1997, Mr Lewis said: "Richard ...used to joke about her [Yvonne] and refer to her as eccentric or mad."

It was during a meeting at the Southampton Boat Show at the end of the summer in 2001 that the lawyer reportedly confided that he was unhappy in his marriage, according to Mr Lewis. Mr Sherrington had inquired to Mr Lewis about buying a 50ft boat, having spent a happy summer with his son on a Sunseeker Camargue 47 boat.

"I gained the impression - and he may have said as much explicitly but I cannot specifically recall - that he wanted the bigger boat to get away from his wife, Yvonne," he told the court.

His last conversation with Mr Sherrington took place shortly before he was killed in the road accident on the M25, according to his witness statement.

"In this conversation Richard was much more specific than he had been before about his relationship with Yvonne in contrast to his evident pride in his son, whom he made plain he loved very much and wanted to have more time with," he said.

"He spoke of Yvonne as 'an awful woman' and 'a witch'. He said his relationship with her was awful and he did not enjoy anything with her any more." The statement continued: "He said that she was only interested in him for his money. He said it was 'the biggest mistake of his life' to have married her."

During cross-examination by Paul Teverson, representing Yvonne Sherrington, Mr Lewis admitted that Yvonne had made complaints about him over the handling of the sale of the boat after her husband died.

However, Mr Lewis refused to dismiss what Mr Sherrington had reportedly said to him as "jocular remarks".

"He was extremely distressed when I spoke to him on the telephone. His remarks were not jocular," said Mr Lewis. "It was not the happy Richard I knew." Referring to his unexpected intervention in the court case, he revealed it was prompted by newspaper reports because he felt it was "his duty" to give evidence when what was being said in court about the marriage conflicted with what Mr Sherrington had told him.

The appearance of Mr Lewis in court was the latest twist in a case that has already revealed numerous apparent tensions between family members.

Yvonne Sherrington, 55, broke down in tears in court earlier this week when questioned about Gloria Sherrington, the first wife of her late husband.

Although the couple had divorced in May 1999, they maintained a happy relationship and he visited her home on the way to and from work every day. Yvonnesaid that Gloria reportedly refused to acknowledge her existence.

Her daughter, Nathalie Walker, claimed earlier this week that there were "strained relationships" between her stepfather and the three children from his first marriage.

"The most startling thing was that they did not come to the wedding, even though it was a big occasion," she said.

It was Miss Walker, a doctor in plant ecology, who drew up a new will for Mr Sherrington shortly before his death, claiming that he urged her to use a legal manual to do so.

The hearing continues.