(1) Stephen John Culliford v Jocelyn Thorpe

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtChancery Division
JudgeHHJ,Paul Matthews
Judgment Date08 Mar 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] EWHC 426 (Ch)
Docket NumberCase No: D30BS708

[2018] EWHC 426 (Ch)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

CHANCERY DIVISION

BRISTOL DISTRICT REGISTRY

Bristol Civil Justice Centre

2 Redcliff Street, Bristol, BS1 6GR

Before:

HHJ Paul Matthews

(sitting as a Judge of the High Court)

Case No: D30BS708

Between:
(1) Stephen John Culliford
(2) Dawn Lane
Claimants
and
Jocelyn Thorpe
Defendant

Adam Boyle (instructed by Porter Dodson) for the Claimants

Joss Knight (instructed by Burnetts) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 14–15 December 2017

Judgment Approved

Paul Matthews HHJ

Introduction

1

This is my judgment on a claim and counterclaim in relation to a residential property known as 9 Clover Road, Wick St Lawrence, Weston super Mare (“the Weston property” or simply “the property”). The claim is brought, as a simple claim for possession, by the personal representatives of Rodney Culliford (who died intestate on 25 March 2016), as the former owner. The counterclaim is made by the defendant, Jocelyn Thorpe, for a declaration of interest in the property by way of constructive trust and/or proprietary estoppel.

2

The claim form was issued, together with particulars of claim, on 19 December 2016 in the County Court at Weston-super-Mare, a grant of letters of administration ad colligenda bona having been made to the claimants (siblings of the deceased, who died intestate) on 13 December 2016. On 6 February 2017, probably after having read the first witness statement from the defendant dated 30 January 2017, District Judge Field made an order reciting that the defendant was proposing to bring a claim for a proprietary interest in the property and transferring the claim to the Bristol District Registry of the High Court. In accordance with directions given by the district judge, the defendant filed a defence and counterclaim on 6 March 2017, and a reply and defence to counterclaim was filed on 3 April 2017.

3

The claim itself is very short and simple. It is alleged that the deceased was freehold owner of the property, that the claimants are the personal representatives of the deceased, that the defendant had only a licence to be in the property, and that the licence was terminated on 15 July 2016 by notice when in a letter dated 17 June 2016. The defendant accepts the claimants' legal title, and admits that he is not a tenant or subtenant of the property. But he claims to occupy it, not by virtue of a licence, but by virtue of a proprietary interest in it.

4

The defendant claims this first and foremost by way of a common intention constructive trust, based on an alleged agreement between the deceased and himself in May 2012 that they pool their property and other resources, and on monies then spent and work then done by him on the property in reliance on that agreement. Alternatively, he claims a proprietary estoppel based on an alleged assurance by the deceased that they owned the property together and that if the deceased died the defendant would inherit the property, which assurance the defendant relied upon by spending money and doing work on the property. He says that either way he is entitled to the entire beneficial interest in the property.

5

The defendant therefore resists the claim to possession and seeks a declaration as to his beneficial interest in the property and an order that the property be transferred it to him. The result of the statements of case is that the burden lies on the defendant to make his case good. In substance, therefore, he is the claimant (though I shall continue to refer to him in this judgment as the defendant).

6

This case was tried by me in Bristol on 14 and 15 December 2017. The claimant was represented by Adam Boyle of counsel, instructed by Porter Dodson. The defendant was represented by Joss Knight of counsel, instructed by Burnetts. I heard evidence from these witnesses in the following order: the defendant, PC Vinnie Anthony, Graham Bond, Florence Bennett, Lesley Wood, the first claimant and the second claimant. I should record that the defendant says he would like to have been able to have called more witnesses, including his own sister, who was apparently present in court during the trial. However, the order of DJ Watkins of 24 April 2017 (sealed 4 May 2017) by paragraph 4(ii) restricted him to a maximum of four witnesses including himself. At the end of the trial, time being short, I invited closing submissions in writing. Both were rather more lengthy documents than I had expected. In particular, that for the claimants was, at 111 paragraphs extending over 32 pages, far too long. Nevertheless, I have read them and taken them into account in reaching my decision.

The witnesses

7

I give my impressions of the witnesses here. The defendant in giving evidence was a clear, straightforward, indeed transparent witness. He made no attempt to spin his evidence, or to make up what he did not know or remember. He had however at an earlier stage in these proceedings adduced in evidence a transcript of a voice recording made by a concealed recording device of a conversation with the claimants, perhaps to obtain evidence in support of his claim to a British Airways pension. I do not know if he made the recording himself or not, but he certainly sought to take advantage of it. This does not reflect well on him, but when placed against the impression which he made in the witness box, it does not make me change my view.

8

He was cross examined vigorously for some three hours on behalf of the claimants, though in my judgment without any significant impact. Towards the end of that period he appeared to grow in confidence, and a certain amount of belief that he was right began to assert itself. It may have resulted in some unconscious exaggeration, and also some selectivity in what he told me. But in my judgment it did not affect the veracity of what he was saying in any significant way. He was slightly defensive, especially when dealing with his first meeting with Graham Bond, and also in responding to questions which touched on his sex life. Nevertheless, in my judgment, he was telling the truth.

9

PC Anthony was a straightforward professional witness, dealing with the finding of the body of the deceased, and obviously telling the truth. Both Mrs Florence Bennett and Mrs Lesley Wood were transparently honest witnesses, doing their best to assist the court.

10

Graham Bond was a well educated, well spoken, knowledgeable and analytical witness. He thought carefully before answering questions and gave measured answers. He was plainly more experienced in business matters than the defendant. I had no hesitation in accepting what he said as the truth. In particular, and contrary to the suggestions put to him on behalf of the claimants, I accept that there was not in the past and is not now any sexual or other relationship between him and the defendant apart from ordinary friendship.

11

Stephen Culliford is the first claimant and the elder brother of the deceased. They were born some 9 years apart, and when the deceased was only 5 years old their parents separated. The deceased and his sister Dawn lived with their mother and the first claimant went with his father. It is clear that he retained great affection for his brother, but also that he did not have a lot to do with him. Their lifestyles were very different. In the years leading up to the death of his brother, the first claimant had very few communications with him. There was the occasional email or telephone conversation. The first claimant does not use Facebook, whereas his sister (the second claimant) and the deceased both used it frequently.

12

The first claimant in giving evidence came across as quick and affable, if a little old-fashioned. He saw things very much from his own point of view. He jumped around from one thing to another, and indeed jumped to conclusions which when tested were shown to be based on no or very little information. He freely admitted that he did not know the answer to many questions put to him, which he said would have to be referred to his sister, who he said knew the details. I am sure that he was trying to assist the court, but, given the lack of contact between him and his brother, the lack of information (especially up-to-date) about his brother's life and also the cultural distance between their lifestyles, I cannot place any real weight on his evidence where it is not corroborated from another, more knowledgeable source.

13

His sister, Dawn Lane, the second claimant, had rather more contact and communication with their brother. It was clear to me that they had been closer than the deceased and the first claimant. Even so, there were very few communications after 2014. Thereafter, she obtained most of her information about the deceased from Facebook entries, although they did speak in June 2015 and he visited her very briefly on his way to Devon in December 2015. This was the last time she saw him. As one would imagine, she was genuinely upset at recalling this sad fact whilst at the witness stand.

14

She gave evidence in a very straightforward way, without hesitation. She was frank about some of the motives with which she had communicated with the defendant after the death, and she accepted correction when she realised that she was wrong, and both of these are to her credit. Surprisingly, however, she did not consider the works done at the Weston property to be “significant”. She explained that for her that word would have applied to something like an extension built to a house. But it was clear that she had limited knowledge of exactly what had been done, and what was involved in it, as well as who had done it or paid for it, as she obtained her information largely from Facebook photographs. She was also unaware of significant events in the deceased's life, such as that he was HIV positive, that he had been grounded on health grounds in 2015 (until he came to...

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    • 12 October 2020
    ...between the case where a property is taken in joint names and the case where it is taken in a sole name: see Culliford v Thorpe [2018] EWHC 426 (Ch) at [50] per HHJ Paul Matthews sitting as a Judge of the High Court. As he there points out, what are now the leading cases on common intentio......
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    ...claimant in relying on the common intention to her detriment makes it unconscionable for the defendant to renege on that agreement: see Culliford v Thorpe [2018] EWHC 426 (Ch), [76]. Nowadays there is no doubt that making physical improvements to the land which add significant value to the ......
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    • 23 October 2019
    ...the common intention to her detriment makes it unconscionable for the defendant to renege on that agreement: see Culliford v Thorpe [2018] EWHC 426 (Ch), [76], Nowadays there is no doubt that making physical improvements to the land which add significant value to the property can amount to......
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    ...be vested in and conveyed to the plaintiff, is bad in law. 15. Mr Chan relies on the discussion of remedies in Culliford v Thorpe [2018] EWHC 426 (Ch) at paras 74 and 16. Mr Chan effectively asks the court to simply strike out para (4) in the prayer while allowing para 32 to stay. 17. I do ......
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