Family at war over £4m farm will wrangle
John Suggitt, of Wellfield Farm, Whenby, who has been in dispute with his sister over the family estate
A FARMER triggered a family war when he left his son out of his will – leaving his £4m fortune to his daughter.
Frank Suggitt was “overjoyed” when his son John was born, after three daughters, and always hoped he would take the reins on the family estate near Whenby, between Easingwold and Malton, a court heard.
But after John, now 31, dropped out of agricultural college and “ran through” a £38,000 bequest from an aunt, Mr Suggitt was so disappointed in him he left him nothing in his will.
When he died aged 65, in 2009, 400 acres of prime farmland, various houses and Mr Suggitt’s life savings all went to his university graduate daughter, Caroline, 37.
John went to court, arguing that his father had broken repeated promises that the family lands would one day be his, and Judge Roger Kaye QC effectively rewrote Frank’s will, awarding John a £3m stake in his father’s fortune, including a £760,000 home.
Caroline challenged that ruling at the Court of Appeal in London, insisting it thwarted her father’s wish that John should not get the family estates until he had proven himself capable of farming them.
However, Lady Justice Arden rejected her challenge, saying John had “based his life” around the farm and, despite his disappointment in his only son, Frank would not have wanted him to be homeless.
The brother and sister, who have what Judge Kaye described as an “enormous emotional distance” between them, both live on the family estate – John with his partner, Gemma King, and their four young children at one of the family properties worth an estimated £760,000, and Caroline in a bungalow, which was once home to their parents.
In his ruling last year, Judge Kaye said Frank had been delighted by the birth of a son and, as a child, John helped during the harvest and tended a small flock of sheep of his own.
But joy turned to anger as the years passed after John failed to finish a course at agricultural college and spent £38,000 he inherited from an aunt in only nine months.
John was “apt to grumble and complain that his father gave him nothing” and seemed “entirely to overlook the fact that his father paid everything for him”, including his food, lodging, living expenses and college fees, the judge added.
Although Frank was “overjoyed at the birth of a son after so many daughters” and hopeful that John would be able to carry on the farm after him, he “did not turn out as his father had hoped” and Mr Suggitt “apparently regarded John as lazy”.
Speaking to The Press after the appeal decision yesterday, John, who was supported in his litigation by his two other sisters, said: “I think my father would be disappointed it has come to this, but happy with the outcome.“It has been a long two-and-a-half years and I hope it’s over so we can get on with the farm. It should not have happened in the first place – she should have handed it over in the first place.
“My dad’s intentions were quite clear – he intended on me having the farm. Caroline saw an opportunity to feather her own nest.
“The will was written when I was 16 and you cannot leave farm land to anyone under 16. The court acknowledged it was a poorly written will and was depending on Caroline’s goodwill.”
Caroline said: “Life is going to go on. I have been left with assets and at least the stress of the last two years is over, which is a positive.”