Son loses appeal over "promised" Derbyshire farm inheritance

A farmer's son who was "promised" ownership of the family's £1.2m farm in Derbyshire has lost his appeal over being left out of his father's will.

Alan Shirt, 64, claims his late father, Stanley Shirt, told him Syda Farm, Holymoorside, near Chesterfield, was his if he "worked for it".

He said he was offered the farm in 1986 and has "committed his entire working life" to keeping it going.

But his father, who died in 2011, left his estate to Alan's three siblings.

Appeal court judges in London heard Mr Shirt's account of how he worked on the family farm for years, without receiving proper wages, in the expectation of getting his reward at the end of his father's life.

But in April 2006 he was removed from his father's will after the pair fell out.

'Lowest ebb'

One of the reasons offered for him being written out of the will was his father's "antipathy" towards Virginia, Alan Shirt's second wife.

Stanley Shirt, who died aged 84, left everything to his daughter Lynda Mayhall, 67, and two younger sons Geoff, 59, and Jonathan 46.

That was despite their choice to "make their own way in life" rather than regularly work the land with their father, the court heard.

Alan Shirt believed he is entitled to the farm, both legally and morally.

His barrister, Christopher McNall, said he had formed a farming partnership with his father and mother in 1974, although he had worked there since the 1960s.

Mr McNall said that Mr Shirt had told his father: "I'll work day and night to keep the farm going" and had "tied himself to the farm for 20 years" by "taking on the debt burden of the business", allowing a £200,000 refinancing exercise to be supported by an endowment policy on his life.

Old conversation

But in 2006 after the pair fell out, Mr Shirt senior mounted a legal bid to have his son evicted from the farm.

In December 2010, before Stanley Shirt's death, Judge Charles Purle QC at Birmingham High Court presided over the bid to evict Mr Shirt and a counterclaim from Mr Shirt to say the farm belonged to him.

The eviction bid failed and the judge also said the "promises" alleged by Mr Shirt "were not made in sufficiently clear terms" to amount to binding obligations.

During his appeal hearing against the earlier decision his barrister argued that: "By his work in expectation, he [Mr Shirt] had earned a legal right to the farm."

Mr Shirt's sister and two brothers, who represented themselves in court, spoke only to say they had eschewed lawyers "in order to protect whatever amount remains in the estate".

Lord Justice Lewison, sitting with Lord Neuberger and Lord Justice McFarlane, told the court: "The parties are arguing about a conversation that took place 24 years before the trial."

He said formal documents detailing land ownership, "exist for good reason - to prevent expensive disputes about half remembered conversations, which took place many years before the dispute crystallised".

Lord Neuberger dismissed Mr Shirt's appeal, save for making "a small change" to the earlier ruling, leaving the way open for him to make a claim against his father's estate for the loss of his tenancy of another farm.

Mr Shirt is now considering making a compensation claim in the High Court.

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