Brothers at war in court turn farm into battlefield

SET amid rolling pastures on the edge of a peaceful North Yorkshire village, Beechfield Farm is a picture of rural tranquility.

But a 17-acre plot of land at the farm in Beckwithshaw, near Harrogate, has been at the centre of a bitter inheritance battle between a top Yorkshire solicitor and his merchant seaman brother.

Martin Scott, a partner at Leeds-based law firm Walker Morris, and his brother Andrew were locked in a venomous court feud over the plot until a judge resolved the long-running dispute yesterday.

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The land, which could command a substantial sum due to its development potential, is held up in a trust set up in 1991 by their late mother, Elizabeth Scott.

She gave the farmhouse to Martin, 54, before she died in 2005, while Andrew, 48, received only a converted barn – which was said to have left him feeling bitter.

Earlier this year, he took Martin to court to seek his removal as a trustee, accusing his older sibling of breaching his duties by withdrawing money without authority and failing to communicate about the running of the trust.

In a scathing personal attack, he also described him as a “capricious, conniving, greedy and selfish individual”.

Martin, who responded with a counter-claim for Andrew’s removal as a trustee, called his brother a “bully” who would “pick up on anything” to gain the upper hand in their long-running row.

In a judgement published yesterday following a four-day hearing at Leeds District Registry in July, Judge John Behrens sided with Martin and rejected Andrew’s accusations.

Lamenting the bad blood between the pair, he said the “hostility and friction” in their relationship was clear from the allegations Andrew levelled against his brother – including accusing him of being a “serial adulterer”.

The judge said Andrew’s claims were unfounded and his language was “intemperate and wholly inappropriate”.

He added that there was “no scope for any substantial criticism of Martin” and most of Andrew’s complaints were over events that took place a long time ago.

“The conduct of Andrew throughout these proceedings has satisfied me there is force in Martin’s comment that Andrew will pick up on anything – anything at all – he believes will give him some advantage in terms of this dispute, and run with it,” he said.

The judge confirmed Martin as a trustee and took the rare step of removing Andrew from the position instead.

The brothers are the trust’s principal beneficiaries alongside Leeds-based barrister Simon Jackson QC.

Mr Jackson had a relationship with Mrs Scott, who was 20 years his senior, before he married in 1995. He was not involved in the court dispute, but the judge said he would be content to substitute Mr Jackson for Andrew as a trustee, if the barrister is willing.

He also urged that an independent professional should be appointed to reduce the risk of further disputes and to ensure the interests of all the beneficiaries are served.

“Andrew’s attitude throughout these proceedings, including the allegations that he has made which have proved unfounded, have convinced me that Andrew’s hostility is affecting the welfare of the beneficiaries,” he said.

Martin told the Yorkshire Post yesterday that he was glad the case had finally been resolved. Obviously I was very relieved and pleased at the result. In my mind it was a set of ridiculous allegations which should never have been brought.

“In the end, it is just a family dispute and it’s now resolved. Hopefully my brother accepts the decision.”