Mother, 88, wins £6m court fight against 'wealthy' son for family farm

Mother, 88, wins £6m court fight against ‘wealthy’ son who must now pay her £2.5m for her share of family farm after she insisted she would never leave her ‘darling’ daughters penniless

  • Peter Horsford’s claims were thrown out by the judge despite the High Court being told that he was ‘repeatedly promised’ the land 
  • Mr Horsford has been ordered to pay his mother Marion £2.52million for her share of the family millions 
  • He was ‘groomed’ to take over the farm since childhood and spent the ‘best years of his life’ toiling on the land, the court heard 
  • But the judge ruled in the favour of his mother, who insisted that she would never have agreed to her daughters getting nothing 

An 88-year-old mum has won a £6m court fight against her ‘wealthy’ son to make sure her ‘darling’ daughters get a share of the family millions.

Peter Horsford, 54, has been ordered to pay his mother, Marion, £2.52million for her share in the £6million family country pile, after a judge threw out his claims he was promised it would ‘all be his one day’.

Mr Horsford told London’s High Court he was ‘repeatedly promised’ the 540-acre estate in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, would be his, ever since he was a schoolboy.

He sacrificed a normal childhood spent playing with his friends to labour on the family farm, and was ‘groomed’ to take over from his dad, starting when he was given farm-themed toys as a boy, he claimed.

Peter Horsford (left), 54, has been ordered by the High Court to pay his mother Marion £2.52million for her share of the 540-acre family pile in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire

But Judge Murray Rosen QC has now ordered him to split the value of the farm with his mother, after hearing her insist she would never have agreed to her ‘darling girls’ – Mr Horsford’s sisters Helen and Liz – getting nothing while he got the lot.

Mr Horsford had told the judge he spent the ‘best years of his life’ toiling on the land and, after a golfing accident in 1997, even decided to have his eye removed so that he could get back to the farm as soon as possible.

He claimed his elderly mother ‘reneged on her lifetime of assurances’ after she spilt from his dad in 2011, then retired from the family farming partnership in December 2016, asking for over £2.5million from her son for her share, plus around £23,000 in past profits.

Mr Horsford said he should not have to pay a penny for her share, due to the promises made to him, claiming that if he had to pay up the farm might need to be sold, taking away his ‘life’s work’.

But Judge Rosen ruled in favour of the mother, saying that while she had said in the past that she might leave him her share, she had never promised to do so and entries in her diary showed she had ‘wanted fairness between her three children.’

Millionaire Mr Horsford had already become ‘a wealthy man’ through his hard work on the farm and ‘his parents’ generosity’ without getting his mother’s slice of the farm for nothing on top, the judge added.

Mr Horsford had insisted it was always his parents’ intention that he would inherit the entire family holding, sited around College Farm and Whitleather Lodge Farm, near Huntingdon.

He already owns £2.25million Whitleather Lodge Farm, having been gifted the farmhouse and an acre by his mum, then having bought his sisters out of the surrounding land for about £100,000.

But he insisted that all the land attached to neighbouring College Farm should also be his by right.

Marian, who split up from Mr Horsford’s father in 2011, denied promising him her share of the farm and argued that the work he did as a child was normal for a farm boy.

Mr Horsford’s father, Davis, is in no position to clarify what was said in the past, because he is now suffering from dementia, the court heard.

Stephen Jourdain QC, for Marian, said she accepted that in the past there was a ‘family understanding’ that Mr Horsford would probably inherit his parents’ farming interests.

But this was never ‘set in stone’ and he was always likely to have to pay his sisters something for this windfall, the barrister said.

Judge Rosen, giving his ruling, said he was ‘dealing with half a century of family history’ and ‘questions as to the partnership and of fairness and equality as between the three siblings.’

‘Various disputes… have driven this family apart,’ he added.

‘Peter’s case – that the promise was made – stresses that he “grew up on” it, and it was a constant theme in his discussions with the family.

‘The farm would be handed over to him as his inheritance and to do with as he pleased.

‘It is said that this understanding was also communicated to and readily understood by other members of the family.’

But he added: ‘Much of this however misses the crucial distinction between promises and mere statements of intention.’

Marian’s diary entries, the judge said, showed that in earlier years she had expected Mr Horsford to inherit but had always wanted to be fair to all three children.

‘I cannot stop thinking about my darling girls,’ she wrote at one point, with the judge finding that she never lost sight of her ‘equality objective’ with regard to her daughters.

In her evidence, Liz had told the court: ‘Mum had always felt that her own parents had not treated her the same as her two sisters and she was generally keen to try and make things as fair and equal as possible between the three of us.’

Mr Horsford insists he was ‘groomed’ to take over from his father and even opted to have an eye removed following a golfing accident to get back to his farm as soon as possible

Mr Horsford had claimed Marian was so well-off she did not need to be compensated when she retired as a partner from the farm, the judge said.

However, by 2012, she had split up with Davis and ‘was very worried about money,’ he continued.

‘Marian made it clear that she considered herself entitled to leave the partnership and be paid her share, and to leave her interest in the farm to her daughters,’ he said.

‘No-one could reasonably have thought that previous comments about testamentary intentions would be binding or remain applicable.

‘There was nothing unconscionable about Marian seeking and obtaining the right to retire.

‘I am wholly unsatisfied that any promise was made to Peter of the sort which he claims to have relied on, as regards his inheriting the farm or their shares in it.’

He also rejected Mr Horsford’s argument that his work on the farm since he was a boy had been to his own detriment.

Marian had told the court Mr Horsford ‘profited immensely as a result of his decision to go into farming…and to farm as a member of the partnership.’

She told the judge she gave him the farmhouse and land where he lives, now worth over £2million, paid for him to take a trip to Australia and gifted him £43,000.

‘Peter says all of these and more arose from natural love and affection and did not result from his work on the farm and should thus be regarded as a separate matter,’ the judge said.

‘He benefited, as his sisters were also intended to, from his parents’ generosity and regard for their farm, family and future.

‘He worked hard and contributed to the same cause. In context, his efforts to that end were and are not to be regarded as detrimental to him.’

The judge said that, by 2012, Mr Horsford was a ‘wealthy man’,w ith a farmhouse and land of his own worth £2.25million, plus his share of the £6million family farm, additional income and a salary.

‘Peter had benefited substantially from the choice he made to farm with his parents and all that followed,’ the judge said.

Saying it was not his job to criticise either mum or son, the judge added: ‘This court is not an arbiter of moral outrage, especially in complex family relations.

‘The task of the court is to do no more than decide the issues according to law and fairness.

‘It does not serve to punish the bad son or mother, or the bad brother or sister.

‘On the contrary it is to be hoped that when the legal issues are resolved those involved may ultimately find some measure of mutual empathy and compassion in order to effect at least some small repair to their family.’

The judge also accepted Marian’s valuation of her share as being worth £2.52million.

Mr Horsford is now also likely to face a large lawyers’ bill for the case, although the issue of costs was not dealt with in the judgment.


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