A man has taken his parents to the High Court over who owns what share of their £2.3million family farm – which they agreed to buy together over a pub lunch.
Sean Preson, 56, and his wife Janina, 55, say they put in half the purchase price but have been left with a share on paper worth just 28 per cent of the total value.
The relationship between Mr Preson and his parents, Ivan and Wendy, crumbled in the years after they started living side by side in two houses on Springfield Farm, Huncoate, Leicestershire, in 2003.
The court heard this week that when the farm was purchased in 2003 each couple put in £300,000 to cover the £525,000 asking price and renovation costs.
It was agreed that Mr Preson and his wife would get a derelict barn, which they renovated into their current £520,000 home, while his parents would get the farmhouse, also now renovated and worth £740,000.
The couples are now fighting over who owns what share of the rest of the farm.
Sean Preson, 56, and his wife have taken his parents to the High Court over who owns what share of their £2.3million family farm – which they agreed to buy together over a pub lunch
Ivan Preson, 85, told the High Court that not once over the years had his son claimed he had a 50 per cent stake in the family farm in Huncoate, Leicestershire
The businessman says he had a ‘good relationship’ with his parents before he decided to buy a farm with them over a Sunday pub lunch in 2002, so he could live there and care for them in their old age.
Since the purchase, Mr Preson claims his father threatened to kick Janina and their two children out and ‘make them homeless’ in 2008 while he was away.
But Mr Preson’s 85-year-old father accuses his son and daughter-in-law of being ‘horrible to us’, saying that eventually: ‘We wanted to get away from Sean and his family.’
On paper, Mr Preson’s parents own a £923,000 area of land on which Mr Preson built and paid for a stable block and menage for horses, while he and Janina own three fields worth £136,000. This brings the total value of the farm, including the two properties, to just over £2.3million.
But Mr Preson and his wife claim the paper position does not reflect the true agreement discussed at the Sunday lunch meeting.
They say that each couple had put in £300,000 to buy the farm and had agreed to share the land equally.
The actual paper ownership ended up skewed in favour of his parents simply because they had split the farmland into chunks to avoid higher stamp duty rates.
On paper, Mr Preson’s parents own a £923,000 area of land on which Mr Preson built and paid for a stable block and menage for horses
Mr Preson and his wife Janina, seen outside court, own three fields worth £136,000
Mr Preson’s brother, Dean, and sister, Suzanne (pictured), support Ivan and Wendy’s position on the ownership of the farm
They are now asking Judge Robin Vos to rule that all the land should be pooled and split equally, upping the value of Sean and Janina’s share to over £500,000 and their total stake in the farm to over £1million.
In the witness box, Mr Preson told the judge that at the time of purchase he was 35, had been married for 14 years and had a son and daughter aged 14 and ten.
‘I had a very good relationship with my mother and my father. They were self-made people. I used to talk to them a lot about business deals,’ he said.
‘I was close to my mother.
‘We never had any real problem until we bought the farm in 2003. Then things started to change.
‘The farm was a joint purchase between both families. Each contributed £300,000 in late 2002. We bought the place together because my father had been very ill and in hospital.
‘I pulled out of a deal to buy a farm by myself when my dad became gravely ill so I could be there for them in their later lives.’
He said he and his parents agreed to buy the farm together after enjoying a Sunday dinner together at The Nag’s Head in Stapleton.
Mr Preson said he and his parents agreed to buy the farm together after enjoying a Sunday dinner together at The Nag’s Head in Stapleton
‘We used to take them out for a Sunday dinner. It was on the way back from there that we first pulled up at Springfield Farm and looked at it,’ he told the judge.
Mr Preson’s barrister, Stuart Benzie, told the judge: ‘In 2008, it was discovered that the barn was not registered in the names of Sean and Janina. The barn was and is their family home and this discovery caused great concern.
‘The issue came to light when Ivan attended the barn when Sean was not present and told Janina that the barn was not registered in their name, and he threatened to make the family homeless.
‘Sean and Janina contributed 50 per cent of the cost, with the intention of acquiring 50 per cent of the land, save for the dwellings. In this action all they seek is the fair allocation of the land that they agreed to.
‘It was always intended that each couple should benefit equally from their respective contributions. Both parties intended that they would contribute 50 per cent and receive 50 per cent, save for the dwellings.
‘Sean and Janina rely on the building of the stables and menage in support of their submissions.
‘It is beyond question that Ivan and Wendy have been enriched and that that enrichment was at the expense of Sean and Janina… The enrichment was unjust.
‘The dispute has emanated from a breakdown in the relationship between a family.
‘The court must do justice…to ensure that parties do not make unfair gains by means of the abuse of their strict legal rights.’
But Ivan told the judge that the paper position reflects the true nature of the agreement made at the pub.
Mr Preson’s brother, Dean, who supports their parents’ position on the ownership of the farm
He and his wife, 83, are backed in their position by backed by Mr Preson’s brother Dean and sister Suzanne, with Ivan and his wife having put their share of the land in a trust several years ago to be held equally for the benefit of their three children upon their deaths.
Mr Benzie put to Ivan that he had fallen out with his son when Mr Preson had asserted a right to half the land.
But giving evidence, he denied that and said that not once over the years had his son claimed he had a 50 per cent stake in it.
Ivan admitted he had offered to sell up in 2012 and give Sean and Janina half the proceeds, but told the judge it had been because by then he had wanted to get away from them.
He said he and Wendy had been ‘upset’ at different times by ‘their outbursts’ and accused his son and daughter-in-law of being ‘horrible to us’.
‘Sometimes they weren’t very nice to us,’ he told the judge.
‘That was the sort of thing we have been living with all of these years.’
He added: ‘Sean and his family were making our lives increasingly uncomfortable.
‘We wanted to get away from Sean and his family.’
The parents’ barrister, Nicholas George, told the judge: ‘Ivan and Wendy deny that the claimants’ version of the agreement is correct, and they say that it was actually agreed that each couple would contribute an equal sum – £300,000 – towards the cost of purchase and development of their respective acquisitions, each couple would solely own their respective dwellings – the barn in the case of the claimants and the farmhouse in the case of Ivan and Wendy.
‘The claimants would solely own the three fields, and Ivan and Wendy would solely own the disputed land.
‘It is common ground between the claimants and Ivan and Wendy that their agreement, whichever of the two rival versions it was, was never reduced to writing, either by them or by anyone else on their behalves and was purely oral.
‘The determination of the true terms of the 2002-03 agreement largely becomes a contest between father and son, with the court having to decide whose word is to be believed.’
The trial continues.