A BITTER dispute between brothers over a farm tenancy came to a head in civil court today (Wednesday, August 13), with a sister caught in middle saying her part-ownership had been a millstone around her neck.
It is the latest development in a feud involving Christopher Shepherd and his brothers Paul and Raymond over the sale of West Mulgrave Farm in St Helen Auckland, County Durham.
A multi-million pound housing development has been put on hold pending an outcome to the dispute, which has already seen the farmhouse in which Paul Shepherd lived demolished.
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Christopher Shepherd, who co-owns the land with his sister Joanne Long, has alleged that Paul forged a 40-year farm business tenancy in a bid to claim ownership of the farmhouse.
He told a hearing in Newcastle County Court that his brother had no tenancy and was in effect a “squatter”. Raymond Shepherd pointed out that Paul Shepherd had been paying rent, and therefore could not be.
But Christopher Shepherd replied it was the same amount that his brother had agreed to pay their mother, until she died.
Mrs Long told the court tearfully: “The situation on the farm has been in total stalemate for more than 10 years, with bickering on both sides and me in the middle."
She added: “I don’t believe Christopher signed a tenancy agreement.
“However, if there was a tenancy created deliberately and purposefully, excluding me, both parties were perfectly aware I was co-owner.
"And if this was done as a deceptive act I would have thought it would have no legal merit.”
She added: “I want closure on this very stressful saga. It was never was never my parents’ intention for one sibling to have the farm or they could have gifted it to one 1999.
“Instead they gave it to Christopher and myself, because they trusted us to do the right thing.”
Peter Williamson, representing Christopher Shepherd, argued the tenancy was invalid as no stamp duty had been paid, and no original document or signatures produced.
Raymond Shepherd said there was "not a shred of evidence" to contradict the validity of the tenancy.
Judge Roger Kaye QC has reserved his judgement until Monday September 1.