Published On: Sat, May 27th, 2023
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Family torn apart as son sues own parents in battle over £2.3million family farm | UK | News

Sean Preson

Sean Preson, pictured, is in a legal battle with his mum and dad (Image: Champion News)

A man is suing his own parents in a battle over their £2.3million family farm. Sean Preson, 56, says he had a “good relationship” with his mum and dad before he decided to buy a farm with them in a deal struck during a pub lunch in 2002.

Janina Preson

Mr Preson claims his father threatened to kick out his wife Janina (pictured) (Image: Champion News)

Mr Preson says he and his wife, Janina, agreed with his parents Ivan and Wendy Preson to go halves on a farm after a discussion at one of their favourite locals in Leicestershire.

But the relationship between Mr Preson and his parents slowly deteriorated after they moved into houses on Springfield Farm in  Huncoate, Leicestershire, in 2003.

Mr Preson claims in 2008 while he was away from home his father threatened to kick Janina, 55, and their two children out and “make them homeless”.

But the father, Ivan, 85, accuses his son and daughter-in-law of being “horrible” to him and his wife, saying: “We wanted to get away from Sean and his family.”

The couples are now engaged in a High Court legal battle over who is the rightful owner of the farm.

Mr Preson and his wife argue they put in half the purchase price, but have been left with a share on paper worth just 28 percent of the total £2.3m value.

The court heard during this week’s trial that when the couples bought the farm in 2003 each put in £300,000 to cover the £525,000 asking price and renovation costs.

It was agreed Mr Preson and his wife would get a derelict barn, which was renovated into their current £520,000 home. His parents would get the farmhouse, which was also transformed and is now worth £740,000.

The family is arguing over which couple owns what share of the rest of the farm.

On paper, Mr Preson’s parents own a £923,000 area of land on which he built and paid for a stable block and menage for training horses. He and Janina also own three fields worth £136,000.

Mr Preson and his wife claim their position on paper does not reflect the true agreement as discussed at the Sunday lunch gathering at The Nag’s Head in nearby Stapleton.

They claim that each couple put in £300,000 to buy the farm and agreed to share the land equally. 

On paper, ownership ended up in favour of Mr Preson’s parents simply because the farmland was divided into chunks to avoid higher stamp duty rates.

The couples are now asking Judge Robin Vos to rule all the land should be pooled and divided equally, increasing the value of Mr Preson and his wife’s share to more than £500,000 and raising their total stake in the farm to over £1m.

Mr Preson told Judge Vos at the time of purchase he was 35, had been married for 14 years with a son and daughter aged 14 and 10.

He said: “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.”

Mr Preson added: “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.”

Barrister, Stuart Benzie, representing Mr Preson, told Judge Vos: “In 2008, it was discovered 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 percent of the cost, with the intention of acquiring 50 percent 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 percent and receive 50 percent, save for the dwellings.

“Sean and Janina rely on the building of the stables and menage in support of their submissions.”

Mr Benzie added: “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.

“This is an unfortunate claim: all claims of this nature are unfortunate, and 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 the position on paper reflects the true nature of the agreement struck at The Nag’s Head.

He and his wife are backed in their position by Sean’s brother Dean and sister Suzanne Cooke.

Ivan and his wife put their share of the land in a trust a number of years ago, to be held equally for the benefit of their three children upon their deaths.

Mr Benzie put it to Ivan that he had fallen out with his son when Mr Preson had asserted a right to half the land.

But he denied that, arguing that not once over the years had his son claimed he had a 50 percent stake.

He admitted he offered to sell up in 2012 and give his son and daughter-in-law half the proceeds, but he told Judge Vos that was because by then he wanted to get away from them.

Ivan, 85, said he and his wife Wendy, 83, had been “upset” at different times by “their outbursts” and accused his son and daughter-in-law of being “horrible” to them.

He told the judge: “Sometimes they weren’t very nice to us. 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.”

Nicholas George, representing the parents, 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.”

He added: “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 – credibility is accordingly of paramount importance.”

The trial continues.

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