University lecturer Christine Gill speaks to Joe Willis about her battle to reclaim the £2m family farm left to the RSPCA by her mother.
LIKE many people across Britain, Christine Gill spent Tuesday evening battling through the snow to get home.
For her, though, the journey had extra significance. Earlier that day, the country’s most senior civil judge had ruled that she could keep the 287-acre family farm at Potto, near Northallerton, which she had worked on since she was a girl.
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The Court of Appeal upheld an earlier High Court decision which ruled that the will signed by her mother, Joyce, leaving the farm and £300,000 to the RSPCA was invalid.
The judgement brought to an end a bitter four-year struggle with the charity.
It began in 2006 when her mother died. When Dr Gill spoke to her mother’s solicitor, she was told that the charity was the main beneficiary – despite her parents’ repeated assurances during their lives that she would get the farm.
The court heard how Dr Gill’s mother suffered from agoraphobia and was “coerced”
into signing the will by her “domineering” husband, John.
The reasons why Mr Gill signed everything to the charity, which he openly disliked, will never be known.
Speaking to The Northern Echo yesterday, Dr Gill, 60, who lectures at the University of Leeds, said the courts had realised it was not her mother’s wish to leave the farm to the charity.
“My mother loved me and I loved her,” she said.
“There’s no way she would have wanted this to happen.
She would have been appalled if she knew what we had been through the past four years.
“She wanted myself and (my son) Christopher to carry on with the farm.”
Dr Gill said she could not understand the RSPCA’s decision to continue fighting in court.
She said: “I have no axe to grind with the RSPCA. There’s a shelter at Great Ayton that does a great job, but that’s a million miles away from the executives who pushed this through the courts.”
The lecturer said she had repeatedly tried to settle out of court.
“I was pleading with them but it fell on deaf ears. Nobody wanted to hear.”
Despite the criticism of the charity, Dr Gill remains philosophical about the legal battle and now just wants to get on with running the farm.
“I guess it’s a case of all’s well that ends well,” she said.
And although there may still be a battle over costs to be fought, it appears it is the end of the argument.
In a statement issued yesterday, the charity said: “Although we are disappointed with this outcome, it strengthens our resolve to continue our important work preventing cruelty and suffering to animals.”