Arthur Aspden v Joy Marie Elvy

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtChancery Division
JudgeJudge Behrens
Judgment Date23 May 2012
Neutral Citation[2012] EWHC 1387 (Ch)
Docket NumberCase No: 1LS72368
Date23 May 2012

[2012] EWHC 1387 (Ch)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE CHANCERY DIVISION

LEEDS DISTRICT REGISTRY

The Court House

Oxford Row

Leeds LS1 3BG

Before:

His Honour Judge Behrens Sitting as a Judge of the High Court in Leeds

Case No: 1LS72368

Between:
Arthur Aspden
Claimant
and
Joy Marie Elvy
Defendant

Sarah Greenan (instructed by Savage Crangle) for the Claimant

Elizabeth Darlington (instructed by Lee & Priestley) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 23, 24 and 25 April 2012

Approved Judgment

I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

Judge Behrens
1
1

This is a dispute between an unmarried couple as to the beneficial ownership of a property known as Outlaithe Barn, Lothersdale North Yorkshire. Outlaithe Barn formed part of a larger property known as Outlaithe Farm.

2

On any view the facts are unusual. Furthermore there are significant disputes of fact. For the purpose of the Introduction they may be summarised.

3

In September 1985 the parties met. In June 1986 Mr Aspden purchased Outlaithe Farm for £70,000. It comprised a farmhouse, a number of outbuildings, a derelict barn with planning permission for conversion to a dwelling and about 6 acres of land. Mr Aspden was registered as sole proprietor.

4

Cohabitation began very shortly afterwards though there is a dispute as to whether there was a sexual relationship for about a year. There are 2 children from the relationship – Claire (d.o.b 7/10/1988) and Simon (d.o.b 3/4/1990).

5

It is common ground that Ms Elvy was not working initially. She carried out some work to the property although there are disputes as to the extent of the work she carried out.

6

From about 1988 Ms Elvy ran a cattery and dog kennels from the outbuildings under the name "Noah's Ark". Profits from the business were modest.

7

Until 1988 Mr Aspden worked as a Manager for Webb's Poultry. In 1988 he suffered a heart attack at work. Soon after this he was dismissed. He has not worked since. He was thereafter involved in successful litigation against his former employers and unsuccessful litigation against his former solicitors and an accountant.

8

The parties separated in late 1995 or early 1996. Ms Elvy left Outlaithe Farm with the 2 children and went to live nearby. There are disputed allegations of domestic violence on both sides. However Ms Elvy continued to run Noah's Ark and thus saw Mr Aspden on a daily basis.

9

By a Transfer dated 21 January 2006 Mr Aspden transferred Outlaithe Barn to Ms Elvy. By that time the planning permission had lapsed. As a result Ms Elvy became registered proprietor of Outlaithe Barn which included almost the whole of the land which had been comprised in Outlaithe Farm save for the farmhouse itself.

10

On 24 January 2006 Mr Aspden executed a home made will in favour of Ms Elvy.

11

There is an acute conflict of evidence as to the circumstances in which the Transfer and the Will was executed and as to the parties' intentions at the time. The resolution of the conflict is central to the outcome of the dispute.

12

Following the transfer Mr Aspden remained living at the farmhouse until it was sold in January 2008. The net proceeds of sale amounted to £373,000 of which £185,000 was needed to discharge creditors. Mr Aspden therefore received about £188,000. Thereafter Mr Aspden lived in a static caravan situated (without planning permission but with Ms Elvy's consent) on part of the land within the curtilege of Outlaithe Barn.

13

Steps were taken to convert Outlaithe Barn into a dwellinghouse. There is a conflict of evidence as to whether this was a joint enterprise or whether the conversion was by Ms Elvy. It is, however, common ground that Mr Aspden did some labouring work and also used his JCB in respect of some of the outside work necessary for the conversion. There is a dispute as to how far this work was for the benefit of Outlaithe Barn or for his static caravan.

14

It is common ground that Mr Aspden made a substantial financial contribution to the cost of the conversion works but the extent of the contribution is disputed. For much of the case there was a dispute as to the costs of the work. Although there was substantial documentation it was incomplete. However a careful analysis by Miss Greenan during the course of the trial showed that it was Mr Aspden's case that the works cost just over £90,000. In cross-examination Ms Elvy agreed with this figure. In those circumstances it is not necessary to set out the detailed analysis.

15

There is, however, a substantial dispute as to the source of the £90,000. Mr Aspden contends that the majority of the £90,000 was provided by him. Miss Greenan's analysis suggests that at least £73,000 was provided by Mr Aspden. Ms Elvy does not accept this. She accepts that £20,000 in cash was provided between October 2006 and February 2007 and that cheques and/or cash totalling approximately £19,200 were paid between February and October 2008 but she disputes that any further sums were paid by Mr Aspden.

16

There is also a dispute as to the reason why the payments were made and the work carried out. Mr Aspden contends that it was pursuant to a common intention that the parties would marry and cohabit as a family or a belief on his part that that was the position. Ms Elvy contends that there was never any common intention that they would marry or cohabit. She contends that the payments were gifts to her in recognition of her contributions to the family, and in respect of her interest in Outlaithe Farm.

17

Mr Aspden puts his case on the basis of a constructive trust and/or proprietary estoppel. Ms Elvy contends that she is the absolute owner of Outlaithe Barn and denies that any proprietary estoppel arises.

2

Witnesses

18

The principal witnesses were, of course, Mr Aspden and Ms Elvy. They each gave evidence for approximately a day. It will, of course, be necessary to assess their evidence in order to resolve the case.

19

Ms Elvy's case was corroborated by two short witnesses. One was their daughter, Claire, and the other a friend of her fathers who had some limited involvement in the building work to Outlaithe Barn. Neither of these witnesses added much to the dispute between the parties.

3

The facts

3.1

The parties

20

Mr Aspden was born in 1938. In 1963 he married. The marriage lasted for 10 years. There were 2 children. According to Mr Aspden he was not involved in any other relationship until he met Ms Elvy in 1985.

21

In 1985 Mr Aspden was employed as the factory manager at Webbs Poultry's Cullingworth plant. He was earning good money. He had a company car and limited expenses. He was or had been the owner of two properties – one in Wortwell, Norfolk and the other in Cullingworth. He sold the Norfolk property in April 1984. The net proceeds of sale amounted to £19,375. According to Mr Aspden he retained these moneys as savings. He told me he had other savings as well.

22

Ms Elvy was born in December 1955. She was thus 18 years younger than Mr Aspden. Before she met Mr Aspden she had been involved in a lengthy relationship and had bought, together with her partner, a derelict property near Selby. She had been involved in the conversion works. That property was sold in 1985. As a result she received a cheque for £4,293. She was employed as an animal technician. In 1985 the job was temporary. It came to an end in November 1985. Thereafter she received unemployment benefit. She told me that she also made small amounts of money from horse dealing and making pottery.

3.2

The acquisition of Outlaithe Farm

23

The parties met in September 1985 as they were both members of a flying club. It is clear that the relationship progressed though there are different versions of the speed at which it progressed. According to Mr Aspden by June 1986 he had met Ms Elvy a dozen times, had some meals together and been taken to see her brother's family. According to Ms Elvy the relationship became romantic within a week and that at that time they got on very well.

24

Mr Aspden was living in a bungalow in Cullingworth and it made sense to look for somewhere bigger. It is not clear when he started looking for property. Ms Elvy said that he only started looking because she wanted somewhere to keep her horses.

25

In any event it is common ground that they looked at some properties together including Outlaithe Farm. The Valuation report for Outlaithe Farm describes it as:

An old stone built farmhouse together with several original outbuildings and also new pig breeding buildings. The house is in need of a damp proof course, a central heating system, a wiring check and serious consideration must be given to an early re-roofing of the property. Outside the whole yard area needs cleaning up. Your applicant should not attempt to proceed with the purchase of the property unless he is prepared to spend considerable money on bringing the property round to a better standard.

26

It went on to refer to the barn with planning permission for conversion to a dwelling. The property included 6 1/2 acres of land.

27

Mr Aspden purchased Outlaithe Farm on 23 June 1986. He instructed Savage Crangle to act on his behalf. The completion statement indicates that the price was £70,000 and that there was a mortgage of £37,500. After taking into account the net equity of the Cullingworth property, the deposit of £4,200 paid and other expenses Mr Aspden had to find a balance of £15,046.84. Amongst the expenses was stamp duty of £700. There is no dispute that the bulk of the £15,046.84 was provided by Mr Aspden. However Ms Elvy contends she paid the stamp duty in cash. There is no documentary evidence to support or refute Ms Elvy's claim. It is, however, pointed out by Miss Greenan that Mr Aspden had...

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1 firm's commentaries
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