No binding promise in £12m dispute

Posted: 13th July 2016

Law courtsPromises made and assurances given must be clear and unambiguous to be legally binding. In a case that illustrated the point, the son of a wealthy businessman failed to convince the High Court that he was entitled to a stake in his deceased father’s £12 million scrapyard.

From lowly beginnings as a rag and bone man who used a horse and cart, the father made a fortune in the scrap metal trade. His company at one point turned over £6.6 million annually and the yard from which it operated owed its high value to its significant development potential. By his will, he bequeathed everything that he owned, including the yard, to his widow.

When the latter also died, she left the entirety of her estate – barring a legacy to charity – to her daughter, cutting out her three sons. Her oldest son launched proceedings, claiming that his father had promised him that the yard would be split equally between his children and that his mother had acted unconscionably in leaving it to his sister.

Pointing to the years of hard work that he and his brothers had put into the family business, he argued that there were several occasions on which his father had given assurances and made his wishes plain. In rejecting his claim, however, the Court found that nothing his father had said or done was of sufficient clarity to give rise to a legally enforceable promise that the yard would be equally divided.