Fight for a Gift of Love; Wealthy Farmer's Devoted Family Still Battling after 16 Years for the Inheritance Which Should Have Kept Their Precious Home and Land - but Which Has Vanished Instead into the Coffers of a Succession of Legal Advisers

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Byline: MARCELLO MEGA

When wealthy farmer James Clark knew he was losing a long fight against cancer, his final concern was to secure the future of those nearest to him, especially the three beloved children from his first marriage.

His [pound]2.2 million estate should have ensured their future comfort - and enabled his eldest son, James, to take the farming business into the next generation. He signed his will 16 years ago, at the age of 52.

Yet his children and first wife have received just a tiny share of the estate, most of which has vanished into the pockets of lawyers supposedly battling for their rights.

A judicial report into the saga, ordered last year by Lord Dawson, came down strongly on the family's side and accused the original executors of failing to act in a proper and equitable manner. But still no money has been returned.

Now, sickened by the behaviour of some advisers, the family has joined the Scotland Against Crooked Lawyers pressure group, setting in train a number of complaints and actions against their former legal eagles.

Son James, 32, who now lives in Edinburgh, says angrily: 'It was hard enough to cope with the death of our father but, over the months that followed, we realised that the people we trusted were going behind our backs.

'My sisters, Carolyn and Joanna, and my mother, intended to put their share of the estate back into the farms so that I could farm my father's land.

'That was denied us. The home we grew up in was sold without our being consulted. All our roots just slipped away from us and we had nothing to show for it.' The family's effective disinheritance is, they claim, a story of greed and betrayal.

A fortnight before he died in 1985, Mr Clark drew up the will, leaving each of his children and his second wife, Anne, a quarter share-out.

There were outstanding debts of about [pound]500,000 - but he was satisfied he had made ample provision.

Then, on the night of December 4, sometime after 10pm and less than eight hours before his death, Mr Clark signed another two documents which have been the subject of bitter dispute ever since.

In these, he made Anne a partner in his farming business at Nether Pitlochie, Upper Pitlochie and Leckiebank in Fife. The partnership was to run for ten years.

He also granted a lease in her favour for three years at an annual rent of [pound]55,000 - which was never paid to the estate.

Letters from his lawyer in the weeks prior to his death and notes based on telephone conversations indicate that he was under pressure to form the partnership but he appeared reluctant.

What, then, caused him to sign the new documents.

His first wife, Joan Pentland-Clark, says: 'My husband was a good man and a good businessman.

He intended to make adequate provision for the children and he had been extremely fair to me.

'Unfortunately, he didn't realise that his second wife was looking after her own interests or that one of his closest friends, a man who had known the children all their lives, would be party to a series of actions that would effectively disinherit them.' Mr Clark entrusted the execution of his estate to 32-year-old Anne and to his solicitor cousin, Jack Wilson, who has since died.

Eight days after Mr Clark's death, an old friend, Patrick Wilson, became an additional executor.

In August 1986, Anne resigned as an executor but not before she and the other executors had agreed a number of decisions in her favour.

Days after becoming an executor, Mr Wilson wrote to the Clydesdale Bank - owed money by the estate - claiming that the partnership had been formed first, Anne's lease granted second and the farmer's will signed third. …