After eight months of deliberation, a judge yesterday ruled that a daughter could reclaim the £2m farm her parents left to the RSPCA. Joe Willis looks at the events that led up the extraordinary case.
FOR more than 30 years, Christine Gill lived her life believing she would one day inherit her parents’ farm.
That belief influenced many of the big decisions she took throughout adulthood.
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Those decisions included choosing to study at Leeds rather than London, so that she could return home at the weekends to help out on the 275-acre arable business.
Once qualified, Dr Gill took a job as a statistics lecturer, again at Leeds University, meaning she could work on the farm during the long holidays.
And in 1986, she and her husband, Andrew Baczkowski, purchased a farmhouse because it adjoined her parent’s land at Potto, near Northallerton.
This meant the pair were on hand to work on the farm whenever possible.
The move also meant Dr Gill was available to care for her mother, Joyce, who was becoming increasingly dependant on her daughter.
Twelve years later, as her parents’ health deteriorated, Dr Gill made a further sacrifice by opting to go part-time so she could help out even more.
Then, in 1999, when her father, John Arthur Gill, died, she took on the management of the farm and became her mother’s sole carer.
Dr Gill says she was only once paid for the work she did on the farm.
She also said she never argued with her parents and they never indicated they would do anything other than bequeath the farm to her – their only child.
However, she was unaware that six years prior to her father’s death, her parents had signed mirror wills.
The documents left the entire estate, cash and possessions to each other, and on the death of the last survivor, to the RSPCA. Dr Gill would be left with nothing.
The lecturer said finding out was like having her “heart and soul ripped out”.
In her witness statement, she said: “All my life has revolved around the farm.
“I have always felt that the farm is where I belonged. Now I feel as though I do not belong anywhere.”
Dr Gill said the contrast between her parents’ behaviour towards her and the content of their wills was a “devastating shock”.
A short sentence contained in the legal documents represents one of the few clues to the reason behind her parents’ decision.
It read: “I declare that no provision is hereby made for my daughter Christine Angela Baczkowski because I feel that she has been well provided for by me over a long period of time.”
Dr Gill believes the use of her husband’s surname in the statement is strange as she chose to keep her maiden name when the pair were married.
Although the pair appeared to get on, she believes it is possible that her father did not approve that her husband’s father was Polish.
Dr Gill also denies that she has ever been “well provided for”.
During the hearing, she admitted that she received small gifts of money from her parents while studying, plus one large wedding gift of £13,000.
However, she rejected claims from the RSPCA’s barrister that they had supported her for 11 years while she was studying.
Ultimately, Dr Gill says she does not know why her parents wrote her out of their wills.
However, she believes it was a move that her father – who she describes as “stubborn and domineering” – coerced her mother into.
She claims her mother – who the court heard was insecure, feared strangers and showed symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder – would not have been able to digest or oppose the will.
Another apparent mystery is why the farm was left to the RSPCA. Dr Gill says her mother would openly criticise the animal charity and her father allowed the local fox hunt onto their land.
She added: “Why my father made such a will will never be explained.
“He clearly had a bee in his bonnet about something, which he could not or did not wish to discuss with me.
“Once the will was made, leaving everything to the RSPCA, it is hard to understand why my father carried on working through his 70s.”
She continued: “Possibly my father felt that his farm would end up in the hands of my husband’s sister.
“I do not know why he did not alter the will when my son (Christopher) was born in 1997. Perhaps it was too difficult a task to manage secretly, for this will had been kept a secret from me. No copy of it was kept in the house and my parents never referred to it as having been made.
“It is as though they were ashamed of it – and so they should have been.”
Dr Gill said her parents had prided themselves on their honesty and integrity throughout their lives.
However, by giving the farm away they had “effectively disowned and dishonoured”
their only child and grandchild.