A UNIVERSITY lecturer last night spoke of her delight after winning a four-year legal battle to reclaim her £2m family farm left to the RSPCA by her mother.
The animal charity now faces huge legal costs after failing to overturn an earlier ruling that handed 287-acre Potto Carr Farm, in Potto, North Yorkshire, to motherof- one Christine Gill.
Speaking after the decision by the Court of Appeal, in London, Dr Gill said she was looking forward to settling back into life on the farm that she loved.
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The RSPCA’s appeal was dismissed by the nation’s top civil judge, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, sitting with Lord Justice Lloyd and Lord Justice Jackson.
The ruling means Dr Gill, 60, will get the farm as well as her mother’s £200,000 savings.
The RSPCA will get nothing – and may have to pay both parties’ legal costs, which totalled £1.3m before this week’s two-day appeal hearing.
Dr Gill said last night: “I am delighted that the Court of Appeal has upheld the High Court decision to overturn my mother’s will.
“It was a matter of huge regret and disappointment to me and my family that the RSPCA chose not to accept the original decision, forcing us to endure another court hearing.
“We can now settle back into our lives on the family farm that I love, and which I have dedicated many years to maintaining.”
Dr Gill’s mother, Joyce, and her father, John, signed mirror wills in 1993 that left the farm to each other and then, after they both died, to the RSPCA.
Mr Gill died in 1999, but Dr Gill, who works part-time at the University of Leeds, found out she had received nothing only when her mother died seven years later.
Judge James Allen, sitting at the High Court in Leeds, ruled last year that Dr Gill’s mother suffered from agoraphobia and was “coerced”
into signing the will by her “domineering” husband, John.
The judge accepted that Mrs Gill Snr signed the will, leaving everything to the RSPCA, despite having “an avowed dislike” of the charity.
Dr Gill’s solicitor, Mark Keenan, from Mishcon de Reya, said the Court of Appeal was still to explain its reasons for the ruling.
He said: “We cannot provide detailed comment at this stage. However, we are delighted that the Court of Appeal has upheld Judge Allen’s decision that this will did not reflect Mrs Gill’s wishes.”
Despite last year’s High Court ruling, legal issues have prevented Dr Gill from entering her parents’ farmhouse, although she has been able to farm the land.
The RSPCA said it felt strongly that Mrs Gill’s wishes were clear and the judgement in favour of Dr Gill failed to recognise that.
A spokesman said: “It also undermines the very essence of testamentary freedom that this country enjoys.
“The Gills had already provided substantially for their daughter during their lifetime, which included a large contribution towards the purchase of the farmhouse in which she now lives.”
It emerged at the earlier court case that Dr Gill had sacrificed her career to help her parents and then ran the farm and cared for her mother after her father’s death.
She and her husband, Andrew Baczkowski, bought a dilapidated farmhouse next to her parents’ farm in the belief they would one day be able to join the properties together.
Previous hearings heard how Dr Gill – an only child – had been given repeated assurances she would inherit the farm when her parents died.