Family wins £10m will victory over “witch” stepmother
The three children of a multi-millionaire lawyer and businessman yesterday won back their inheritance after a bitter year-long legal battle with their step-mother.
Ramon, Daliah and Donna Sherrington emerged jubilantly from the High Court in London after a judge ruled that their father’s second wife, whom he had nicknamed “the witch”, had pressurised him into signing a new will.
Richard Sherrington, 56, died in a car crash on the M25 in 2001, seven weeks after signing over his £10 million estate to Yvonne Sherrington, 55, but leaving nothing to his three children in his will, which had been drafted by Mrs Sherrington’s daughter and witnessed by an office cleaner with a poor grasp of English.
In a packed court the siblings broke down in tears and hugged each other and their mother Gloria, 62, after Lord Justice Lightman revoked the will in a settlement that will eventually bring them the full value of the estate.
In a damning ruling, the judge said Mr Sherrington had confided to one friend that his marriage to Mrs Sherrington was “a terrible mistake” and that she “may only have married him for his money”. He said he found Mrs Sherrington to be an unsatisfactory and unreliable witness who came across as aggressive and ready to accuse others of lying.
The Sherringtons, who married in 1999 after a whirlwind romance, had a “volatile and tempestuous” relationship and, when Mr Sherrington signed the will, things had become “so bad … it occasioned him great unhappiness and a deep depression”, the judge said.
The court heard that Mr Sherrington referred to his second wife as “a witch” and “Hitler”. He maintained a good relationship with his first wife, regularly visiting her home. Despite the children’s refusal to accept Mrs Sherrington, he had always been devoted to them.
“I am not satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the deceased [Mr Sherrington] was ever informed of the contents of the will or ever read it,” the judge concluded.
“The evidence establishes that the defendant [Mrs Sherrington] was instrumental in drafting the will and put it before the deceased for execution and the deceased thereupon executed it. The deceased had an opportunity to read it when it was handed to him but I am not satisfied that he did read it.”
In the settlement the three children will receive half the value of the estate. Mrs Sherrington will receive “125,000 in cash and will be allowed to live off the interest generated by the other half of her late husband’s assets. On her death that lump sum, estimated to be around £5 million, will be shared between the three children.
Outside court Ramon, 21, choking back tears, said: “Our main concern in bringing this probate action was that we knew our father’s will did not reflect his true intentions and his overwhelming love for us.
“We are grateful to have had an opportunity to put our case before the court and we nope that its message may in some way help others.”
The three, from Hendon, northwest London, wept as he added: “Our father will always be in our hearts.”
Donna, 27, referring to her stepmother’s refusal to negotiate a deal before the case came to court, said: “We didn’t want it to get to this stage.”
Their mother, Gloria, who marked Mr Sherrington in 1971 before their divorce in 1999, said: “They are three of the most wonderful and courageous children. I am very proud of them and their father because we feel he has been vindicated now.”
A statement issued on behalf of Yvonne Sherrington, who did not attend court, said: “She is shocked by the decision and by the contents of the judgment.
“She intends to seek permission to appeal from the Court of Appeal at the earliest available opportunity against the decision and findings of fact made by the judge.”
In his ruling the judge said that the two witnesses who signed the will were unaware of the true nature of the document.
He said the will appeared rushed, contained typographical errors, and one of its witnesses, an office cleaner at Mr Sherrington’s law firm, did not even have a full grasp of English. The document was drawn up by Mrs Sherrington’s daughter, Nathalie, who had no experience of drawing such a document.
Mrs Sherrington was ordered to pay half of the children’s costs as well as her own legal fees, leaving her facing bills of around £150,000.
“The Times” 14th July 2004