RSPCA under renewed attack over legacy case

Christine Gill stands by her claim that she offered the charity three-quarters of disputed estate

The RSPCA has come under attack from university lecturer Christine Gill and her lawyers in the aftermath of the £2m legacy case the charity lost last week.

In a statement released yesterday, Gill said she was disappointed at what she called a "misleading" RSPCA statement refuting her claim that she offered the charity three-quarters of the value of the £2m estate. Her solicitor, Mark Keenan, also disputed the charity's claim that it was obliged by charity law to contest the case.

A High Court judge ruled last Friday that Gill's mother's will, which left the family farm to the RSPCA and explicitly excluded Gill, was not valid because Gill's father had coerced her into making it before he died in 1999. 

After the ruling, the RSPCA denied claims from Gill's lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, that she had offered the charity three-quarters of the value of the estate as an out-of-court settlement more than two years ago and said it had a duty to contest the will.

Keenan said: "There is no principle of law that forces a charity to defend a claim that another reasonable litigant would not defend."

He also noted that the Charity Commission's CC7 guidance on ex gratia payments allowed charities to make payments out of estates left to them "where the testator had made a solemn, though not a legally binding, promise to someone else" that was not fulfilled by their will. The High Court accepted that Gill was given assurances by her mother that she would inherit the farm.

In her latest statement, Gill said: "I am extremely disappointed that the RSPCA has chosen to make this misleading press statement and that it has forced me to provide this explanation." 

She said she made a total of four offers and the RSPCA had made only two – an original offer of only £50,000 plus costs and a later offer of £650,000 plus costs.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said it was sorry the dispute had dragged on.

"The RSPCA did not make only two offers to resolve this dispute," she said. "However, we are unable to discuss the offers made given the pending appeal.

"Charities can agree ex gratia payments only in very limited circumstances - given the facts of this case, this was not an available option. We did, however, make different financial offers to resolve the dispute, including one worth £650,000 plus legal costs, and these were rejected."

 

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