Lecturer Christine Gill yesterday won the latest round of her legal wrangle with the RSPCA over her parents’ farm, but the end is not yet in sight. Joe Willis reports.
THE RSPCA is facing a seven figure legal bill after losing a court battle over a farm left to the charity in a will.
Judge James Allen yesterday ordered the animal charity to pay the majority of the £1.3m legal fees incurred in its fight with university lecturer Christine Gill.
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Dr Gill last night spoke of her relief saying that the judgement in the three-year row “set the record straight”.
The mother-of-one took the charity to court after discovering it had been left £2m Potto Carr Farm, near Northallerton, North Yorkshire, in the will of her mother, Joyce Gill.
She said in court that her mother suffered from mental illness and had been “coerced”
into signing the document by her domineering husband, Dr Gill’s father, John Arthur Gill.
She won the case and was yesterday celebrating again after the High Court, sitting in Leeds, ruled that most of her costs of about £900,000 would be paid by the RSPCA.
The charity must also pay the majority of its own costs – estimated to be about £400,000.
The judge ruled that most of the financial burden should fall on the RSPCA after criticising the charity for not agreeing to settle with Dr Gill before the case came to court.
He said the animal charity would have come away with more had it settled.
After yesterday’s hearing, Dr Gill said: “After last October’s judgement, the RSPCA attempted to justify its stance by saying it was obliged under charity law to defend the claim to trial – that it was a compassionate organisation and that I was the barrier to settlement. This decision sets the record straight.”
Her solicitor, Mark Keenan, from Mishcon de Reya, said: “The RSPCA adopted an entrenched position.
“If they had taken the time to meet Christine and her family, the matter need not have gone to court.”
Legal arguments over the details of the costs order continued yesterday, with the judge due to make his final judgement next week.
The RSPCA has 21 days to appeal against the original decision to overturn the will.
The charity, which the judgement stated would be able to recover some of its costs from the estate, said it had acted in accordance with the wishes of Mrs Gill.
In a statement, a spokeswoman said: “At this stage, no specific sums have been calculated, so we don’t yet know what either bill will be. It is therefore too early for us to comment on the costs.
“However, we are happy that the judge has ordered that some of our costs are to come out of the estate and that we are not paying the whole of Dr Gill’s legal costs.”