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Man wins fight over aunt's will
A man who cared for his elderly aunt in her final years has won his High Court battle against animal charities over her gift of the £350,000 home they shared.
Kenneth King, 58, claimed that a few months before retired policewoman June Fairbrother died, in April 2011, she handed him the deeds to her house in Kingscroft Road, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, saying: "This will be yours when I go."
But, seven charities said that the evidence of Mr King - who has twice been made bankrupt and was jailed for 12 months in August 2005 for acting as a company director while disqualified - was unreliable and he had not made out his case about the "deathbed gift".
Lawyers for Chiltern Dog Rescue, the Blue Cross Animal Shelter, Redwings Horse Sanctuary, The Donkey Sanctuary, The International Fund for Animal Welfare, the PDSA and the World Society for the Protection of Animals said that Mr King's story was "too convenient by half" and should not be accepted unless independently corroborated.
Ruling in Mr King's favour today, Deputy Judge Charles Hollander said that Miss Fairbrother adored animals, had a variety of cats and dogs and within the family it was common knowledge that she intended to leave the property - her principal asset - to animal charities.
This is what she did in her 1998 will but, from 2010, signed documents, which did not constitute valid wills, which left the house to Mr King in the hope he would care for her dogs Tinker, Bonnie and Patch and cats Blackie and Katie until their deaths.
Mr King told the court in London: "From her tone of voice and her seriousness when she gave me the deeds, I had no doubt in my mind at the time, that she thought that she was giving me what she thought I would need when she died, so that the property would belong to me.
"She was a smart woman and understood that the deeds represented ownership of the house.".
He added that she was not prone to using phrases like "when I go" as she was not the sort of person to spend time morbidly considering the end of her life.
"Her use of the words and the way she looked at me at that time made clear to me that she knew her health was failing and that her death was approaching. I took the bundle of documents from her and wrapped them in a plastic bag and put them in my wardrobe."
Mr King moved in with his aunt in June 2007, when she was increasingly elderly and frightened of going into a home, after g iving up rooms he had been renting from a friend in Kent since his release from prison and the collapse of his marriage.
The judge said that the documents signed by Miss Fairbrother provided "powerful corroborative evidence" that in the period shorty before her death, she was seeking to leave her property to Mr King: " In my judgement, these documents make it much more likely that the conversation which Mr King recounted took place."
He rejected the argument that Miss Fairbrother, who had some memory loss and was under the delusion that one of her cats had gone missing when in fact it had died some years before, did not have capacity, four to six months before her death, to make a gift of her property.
The evidence did not come anywhere near justifying such a conclusion, he said.
"In my judgement, the words used, in context, were indeed suggestive of a gift conditional on death and not consistent with any other interpretation."
The judge said that, since Miss Fairbrother's death, Mr King, who does not have a job or a private pension, had continued to live in the property which the valuer regarded as "uninhabitable", and had lived off loans from friends - including £35,000 to enable him to fight the case - and the sale of some personal items.