High Court rules against Southsea solicitor in row over wills

CASE Michael Harris
CASE Michael Harris
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RELATIVES of a solicitor who they say cheated them out of their inheritance have won a ruling against him at the High Court.

Sara Cushway and Sebastian Elliot say Michael Harris, who ran Harris & Co, based in Osborne Road, Southsea, changed the wills of their great-aunts Hannah Harris and Rosette Harris Emmanuel, who lived together in Southsea, so that he got their money.

Hannah Harris

Hannah Harris

Ms Cushway, 44, and Mr Elliot, 40, both live abroad but their mother, Michelle Elliot, was in London for the hearing.

She said: ‘My family is delighted that the wills Mr Harris made have been overturned but are still saddened to think of the disrespect shown to their great-aunts before they died.

‘Both Hannah and Rosette spent their lives caring for others. Rosette had been a senior nurse; Hannah made great sacrifices to care for her mother and father. ‘Rosette was blind and Hannah nearly so, when the wills were made.

‘Rosette was gravely ill and had only a matter of days left to live. ‘Her medical notes show that all she wanted to do before she died was to ensure that her sister, Hannah, who was suffering from dementia, would be cared for. ‘Despite this, Harris’ will left not a penny to her sister. The judgment establishes that the wills Mr Harris made cannot stand.

‘This is however not the end of the story. Because Mr Harris had already distributed Rosette’s estate and spent the entirety of Hannah’s estate before we got to trial, this is only the first stage of the journey.

‘Because Mr Harris is bankrupt, the only hope my children have of recovering any money is through the Solicitors’ Compensation Fund.’

The sisters left estates valued at up to £400,000 but much of this has been depleted by Mr Harris, the court heard.

Rosette Harris Emmanuel died shortly after the wills were changed, in January 2006. Hannah Harris passed away aged 91 a year later.

Mr Justice Henderson overturned the two wills on the basis that they were drawn up without their full knowledge and approval of the contents.

He ruled in favour of two earlier documents which split the sisters’ estates equally between Ms Cushway, who lives in France and Mr Elliot, who lives in New York.

Ms Cushway said: ‘We never stopped believing that eventually we would be able to prove what we knew instinctively: that our great-aunts whom we loved would never have made wills in the form Michael Harris drafted for them.’

Mr Harris, a solicitor of 46 years who is in his 70s, did not attend the hearing and did not respond to requests for a comment from The News. The court heard he has been declared bankrupt.

Mr Elliot said: ‘We believed wholeheartedly we were doing the right thing in pursuing this case, which was both expensive and draining: we believe it’s what our aunts would have wanted.’

The judge said the ‘misappropriation’ claims against Mr Harris had not been proved because no evidence had been tested in the case.

He directed that the case be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

As previously reported in The News Mr Harris was suspended by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal last year over a ‘cavalier disregard for the rules’.