Siblings challenge woman's claim to estate

Last updated 05:00 01/07/2013

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The case of a British city councillor who died when he fell out of a tree has ended up in the High Court in Wellington, where his family are suing his former partner.

Wellington property developer Vanessa Mapp is being sued for $700,000 taken from the estate of Phil Gordon, who died in 2010.

She says they were in a de facto relationship for more than four years, and on that basis she was a beneficiary of his estate.

However, Gordon's British-based siblings say she has no legal claim to the money, and that any de facto relationship between the couple - if it existed - lasted for no more than six months.

Gordon, a Leicester City councillor, was an arborist who died in Leicester when he fell out of a tree. He met Mapp when he came to work on her parents' Marlborough farm for six months in 2005, Simon Gaines, acting for his siblings, told the court last week.

The relationship ended when he returned to Britain in 2006, and the couple did not meet again at any stage in the following four years, Gaines said.

They did not have a civil union, did not have a child, and a core element of a de facto relationship was that they should live together, he said. It ended when they lived separately.

However, there was a subsequent business relationship, with Gordon investing more than $1 million through Bast Investments, a company that ran into difficulty after it bought and restored a large old house in Brougham St, Mt Victoria.

Shortly after his death,  Mapp was appointed executrix, the Wellington house was sold and, after debts were paid, she transferred $707,000 into the account of another company, which she and fellow director Miles Buckingham later moved to wind up, leaving no assets, the court was told.

They have subsequently invested money in buying and restoring two more historic mansions, including Balgownie House in Lower Hutt.

Those investments were now in a perilous state, with Balgownie House being put up for mortgagee sale. That would indicate no money could be recovered from Mapp, the court heard.

However, it was asked to order the repayment of $695,000 to Gordon's estate.

Gaines said a British law firm responsible for administering the estate might be the subject of a claim by Gordon's siblings.

His statement of evidence, heard by Justice Jillian Mallon, was not contested and Mapp was not in court. Justice Mallon reserved her decision.

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