Animal charities win battle over Harpenden woman’s death bed gift to ex-con

Court report

Court report - Credit: Archant

Animal charities have won a legal battle with a former jailbird who claimed his dying aunt handed him the deeds to her £350,000 home.

The Appeal Court has ruled against Kenneth King, 59, who had invoked an ancient legal principle when he convinced a judge that his aunt June Fairbrother, of Kingcroft Road,, Harpenden, had given him her home ‘in contemplation of her death’.

But the seven animal charities which would otherwise have inherited her property under the terms of her will, appealed the decision and three judges this week ruled that Mr King had come nowhere near to proving that his aunt, who was 81 at the time of her death, had made a valid ‘death bed gift’ to him.

Mr King, who had moved into his aunt’s home to care for her during the last four years of her life, claimed that although she had originally planned to leave her home to the charities she changed her mind and left the house to him in the hope he would care for her three dogs and two cats after she had gone. But after she died he sent her beloved dogs to a dogs home.

In July last year Deputy High Court Charles Hollander QC rejected a challenge by the animal charities and said Mr King was entitled to the house.

But that ruling was unanimously overturned on Tuesday when Lord Justice Jackson, sitting with Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Sales, said he was not entitled to the entire property.

The court ruled that he was only entitled to £75,000 from the sale of the house as “reasonable financial provision.”

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The judge told how Mrs Fairbrother “was extremely fond of animals” and “kept a number of cats and dogs.” She also helped several animal charities with their work.

He went on: “It was common knowledge within the family that she intended to leave her property to the animal charities which she supported.”

In a 1998 will she left her property to various animal charities, The Chiltern Dog Rescue, The Blue Cross Animal Shelter, Redwings Horse Sanctuary, The Donkey Sanctuary, The International Fund for Animal Welfare and The World Society for the Protection of Animals.

In the summer of 2007, four years, before her death her nephew moved in to care for her .

The judge said Mr King had worked in the construction industry but was twice made bankrupt in 1990 and 2000. He was also given a 12 month prison sentence in 2005 for acting as a company director while disqualified.

On his release he separated from his wife and went back to working in the construction industry before moving in with his aunt who was “becoming increasingly frail”.

He claimed that on the promise that he would look after her animals she left him the house and signed a purported will known as a donatio mortis causa - DMC - leaving him the property and handing him the deeds before she died saying, effectively, that it would all be his when she died.

Under the DMC the charities got nothing but they claimed because he had shown disregard to the niceties of law and honest behaviour he was unreliable and his evidence should not be accepted.