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Siblings lose round one of bequest battle.

A man bequeathed more than pounds 1 million by a wealthy friend who was found by an inquest jury to have been unlawfully killed yesterday won the first round of a High Court battle with the deceased's family who want to stop him inheriting the money.

Mr John Hart, aged 40, of Roper Avenue, Marlpool, Heanor, Derbyshire, was named as principal beneficiary in the will of Mr Lawrence Dabbs, aged 74, who was found dead in his fume-filled car in an apparent suicide in September 1996.

At London's Law Courts, Mr Justice Lloyd rejected a claim by Mr Dabbs's five siblings that a document dated August 19, 1996, was not a valid will.

The judge ruled that it was a "valid will and ought to be admitted to probate in solemn form".

He said: "I have come to the conclusion that the evidence does satisfy me that the deceased knew what was in the document and intended it to represent the final testamentary disposition of his estate."

The judge said it was clear that if that document was not valid then Mr Dabbs - whose estate is said to be valued at between pounds 1 million and pounds 2 million - would have died intestate and the siblings would be entitled to his estate "he having been twice widowed and not having had any children".

But Mr Justice Lloyd's decision in Mr Hart's favour does not end the courtroom battle over the inheritance.

The judge said there remained a separate issue, to be determined at a later hearing, as to whether Mr Hart "has forfeited his interest in the estate, it being alleged that he unlawfully killed the deceased".

Mr Hart was interviewed by police after Mr Dabbs's death, but the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone.

Despite the CPS's finding Mr Hart says he has been "absolutely ostracised" because of the July 1998 inquest verdict of unlawful killing.

Mr Hart, a mature law student who has studied at Sheffield University, recently lost a High Court challenge to the inquest jury's finding of unlawful killing, claiming the inquest was fundamentally flawed and had turned into a criminal trial.

At the conclusion of yesterday's hearing, Mr Justice Lloyd granted leave to appeal against his ruling to Mr Dabbs's siblings - Thomas Edward Dabbs, Derrick Maurice Dabbs, Hazel Alice Timms, Phyllis Margaret Abbott and Joyce Annie Goodrich.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 7, 2000
Words:398
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