Bennett v Bennett & Others  EWHC 1931 (Ch)
6th August 2018
Tanfield barristers Marc Glover and Chloe Sheridan successfully represented the Claimants in a High Court dispute over East Thurrock United Football Club. In a judgment handed down on 25th July 2018, the Court dismissed the defendant’s and additional parties’ claims to a share in the land used by the Football Club, claimed to be worth £10 million.
The 12 day trial addressed evidence given by over 25 witnesses, over 40 bundles of evidence, with much of the case turning on the cross examination of the defendant, additional parties and their witnesses by Marc and Chloe. Although the defendant’s and additional parties’ cases were supported by three professionals, namely a chartered accountant and two retired licenced conveyancers, following cross examination the Court found: “In my judgment [the accountant’s] evidence was simply made up” & “I do not regard either of [the licensed conveyancers] as a reliable witness, and I do not believe that they have any genuine memory…“. As regards the parties, the Court found that “…I observe…none of the three individuals [the defendant & additional parties]…can be relied upon as a truthful and accurate witness“.
The defendant’s and additional parties’ primary claim was that there was an agreement in 2002 for a partnership, concerning the land. Secondary claims were advanced based on trust and proprietary estoppel. They claimed to have made contributions of time and money to the Football Club (including via various companies) in reliance of the alleged promise that they would own a share. The case demanded detailed examination of tax and accounting documentation, including in relation to numerous companies controlled by the parties. The case also addressed the parties’ interrelated business dealings in respect of numerous additional properties, and a protracted Revenue enquiry into those properties.
The judge found that no agreements or understandings were reached, and further that the contributions of the defendant and the additional parties to the Football Club were not “exceptional and referable to, or explicable only on the basis of, a promise made by Ben of some proprietary interest in the Football Club (and hence in the Ground).” .
The judgement is a rare example of a decision addressing the doctrine of laches, with the judge further finding that the defendant and additional parties claims would have been barred by laches, in any event.
The defendant (and the son of the first claimant) also advanced his case on the following alternative grounds:
- That he has an interest pursuant to a resulting trust arising out of the presumption of advancement.
- That the defendant was in fact the original contracting party for the purchase of the Football Club, contracts for sale having been entered into in his name in 2002 giving rise to a trust in his favour. The subsequent transfer to the second Claimant therefore did not achieve priority under the Land Registration Act 2002 because it was not itself for valuable consideration
- That a settlement reached with the Inland Revenue in 2009 gave rise to an estoppel in favour of the defendant.
The judge rejected all three of the defendant’s alternative grounds and dismissed the claims of the defendant and the additional parties.
In this case Marc and Chloe were able to draw upon their considerable experience in property, company and trust law. In addition, Marc’s experience in tax litigation proved invaluable in understanding and utilising evidence arising from the historic HMRC investigation that permeated the claim. This case is an excellent example of Marc and Chloe’s ability to handle a very complex claim and obtain a successful outcome for clients, on the well-honed cross examination of key witnesses. Marc is endorsed in Chambers UK Bar Guide 2018 as “A real fighter, who is bright, prepares well and knows how to get the best out of judges.”
Tanfield Chambers excels in dealing with disputes concerning property and business disputes.
The case has been covered by The Times, Daily Mail and Express.
A copy of the judgment can be found here, but also on Lawtel and Westlaw.