Builder wins legal fight over will
A builder who struck up a friendship with a lonely pensioner has won a legal battle over his £472,000 estate.
Danny Sharp first got to know Ronald Butcher six years before the 73-year-old bachelor's death, in March 2013, when he fixed his blocked gutter for no charge.
From then on, he would call in to see him at his bungalow in Russell Road, Enfield, north London, every six weeks or so to talk about the weather and sport - especially boxing, as Mr Sharp was a boxing coach and his son, Archie, boxed for England.
To his surprise, Mr Sharp, of Welling, Kent, was the sole beneficiary under Mr Butcher's will, dated January 2013, of his net estate of £472,295.
It also came as a surprise to Evelyn Hutchins, one of the three beneficiaries of an earlier December 2011 will, who challenged the later will for want of knowledge and approval on the part of Mr Butcher.
At a hearing before Deputy Judge Lesley Anderson, at London's High Court, Mrs Hutchins's lawyers described the story of the friendship between Mr Sharp and Mr Butcher as "ludicrous and absurd".
They said that Mr Butcher had no need to look for friends outside his existing circle and he had never mentioned Mr Sharp, with whom he would have had no common ground, to any of them.
Mr Butcher, a traditional big band jazz enthusiast, was interested in woodwork and gardening.
But today, the judge disagreed and said she believed Mr Sharp's account of the friendship which was - as Mr Sharp fairly conceded - casual rather than close.
Mr Sharp described Mr Butcher as being a bit lonely and that description pretty much hit the mark, she said.
Mrs Hutchins, of Southgate, north London, was busy with her own family and job and tended to visit Mr Butcher mainly in the school holidays and at occasional family celebrations and funerals.
Of the other two beneficiaries of the 2011 will, one saw Mr Butcher about six times between December 2011 and January 2013 and the other lived in Plymouth and was unable to travel.
The judge said there was nothing inconsistent between Mr Butcher maintaining his closeness to one circle of family and friends and striking a new different friendship with Mr Sharp.
Perhaps it was precisely because he did not discuss sport with the others that he enjoyed doing so with Mr Sharp but, more likely, just as Mr Sharp was kind to Mr Butcher, Mr Butcher was kind to Mr Sharp by indulging his passion for talking - so that their real shared interest was their mutual chat and banter.
The judge said that Mr Butcher was a private and educated man with full capacity who, as with previous wills, prepared and executed the 2013 will without the assistance of a solicitor.
She was not able to infer that he was not in complete control of the process.
When Mr Sharp was shown the will, two months before Mr Butcher's death, he was shocked when he saw its terms and asked Mr Butcher if he was sure - only to be told that he did not want to talk about it.
The judge said that she was entirely satisfied that there was sufficient evidence from which she was able to conclude that Mr Sharp had discharged the burden of proving that Mr Butcher understood what was in the 2013 will when he signed it and what its effect would be.
She added: "I am satisfied that the 2013 will was executed with the knowledge and approval of Mr Butcher and that he intended it to give effect to his testamentary wishes."