Where large sums of money are involved, even the most highly respected people may be tempted to behave dishonestly. In a striking case on point, the High Court found that a distinguished academic had pursued a false case with a view to inheriting half of a deceased friend’s seven-figure estate.
The case concerned a will by which the friend was said to have left the whole of his estate, which was valued for probate at over £3 million, to the academic and his wife equally. The validity of the will was, however, challenged by an academic institution that would have stood to inherit 90 per cent of the estate under the terms of a previous will.
The academic asserted that, at an alleged meeting at his friend’s home, the will had been witnessed by two more junior academics. That case, however, fell apart when one of the alleged witnesses gave clear and unequivocal oral evidence during the trial that there had been no such meeting.
Ruling on the matter, the Court found that the will was invalid in that it had not been witnessed in accordance with the formalities strictly required by the Wills Act 1837. With the support of the two witnesses in their written testimony, the academic had pursued a false case to the contrary.
Noting the close professional relationship between the academic and the witnesses, the Court observed that the latter may have been persuaded to support his dishonest case by their sense of indebtedness to him and because of his long position of authority over them.
In taking the rare step of referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Court noted the possibility that criminal acts may have taken place in the case, including perjury, conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.