CHRISTINE Gill who contested her parents' will after they left their £2m estate to the RSPCA has won her legal challenge.

Speaking today in Leeds, she said: "I always believed from what my mother said to me that she wanted to leave me the farm. That is what the court has decided today.

Loading article content

"I loved my parents and dedicated many years to caring for them and maintaining the family farm.

"Sadly the RSPCA refused to believe me and hear my side of the story before we went to court.

"These can be expensive cases for working people like me."

The RSPCA has said it is looking to appeal the ruling.

Mark Keenan, partner at Mishcon de Reya, Christine’s solicitors added: “We backed Christine because we believed she had suffered an injustice.

"Sharing some of the risk and securing costs insurance for her were tangible ways of doing so.”

The 58-year-old from Potto, near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, launched her legal battle in July last year to challenge the will, which she claimed her father coerced her mother into making.

After her mother's death in 2006, Dr Gill discovered her parents, John and Joyce Gill, had made wills leaving their 287-acre farm to each other and then to the animal charity when both died.

During High Court hearings in Leeds, Judge James Allen QC heard how Dr Gill - an only child - was given repeated assurances that she would inherit Potto Carr Farm when her parents died.

The university lecturer told the court she had devoted most of her spare time over a period of more than 30 years to voluntarily helping out at the farm.

When Mr Gill died in 1999, aged 82, Dr Gill was left to look after her mother and run the farm, the court heard.

It was only when her mother died in 2006, also aged 82, that Dr Gill saw the will, which left everything to the RSPCA.

The court heard Mrs Gill suffered from agoraphobia with panic disorder, went everywhere with her husband, who was said to be stubborn and domineering, and was dependent on him to make decisions for her.

Psychiatrists said it was likely Mrs Gill would have conformed with the wishes of her husband when they made their wills in 1993 but her anxiety and her dependence on Mr Gill would have made it very difficult for her to take in the proceedings or disagree with what he wanted to do.

But experts disagreed about Mrs Gill's mental state, with one telling the court she was an eccentric woman but did not have a formal psychiatric disorder.

A spokesman for the RSPCA said afterwards: “We are very surprised and of course disappointed by this judgment, and we are concerned at any implications this could have for charities and other groups.

“Throughout this, the RSPCA has been in an extremely difficult position. The Will left by Dr Gill’s parents was very clear - in one sentence they left their entire estate to the RSPCA, and in the next they said their daughter should receive nothing.

“In that situation the RSPCA cannot just walk away, in fact we are legally obliged to seek the funds under charitable law. That said, we are a compassionate organisation, and that’s why we’ve tried to settle this matter amicably before it even came to court. Unfortunately, our offers were rejected.

“Today’s ruling shows the RSPCA has acted in good faith, and we are glad the judge recognised that the late Mrs Gill understood the Will and knew what she was doing when she made it.

"What this case does show is how important it is when making a Will that people discuss their intentions with their family and beneficiaries, otherwise the impact can be very upsetting."