Jessop v Jessop

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
Judgment Date11 October 1991
Judgment citation (vLex)[1991] EWCA Civ J1011-6
CourtCourt of Appeal (Civil Division)
Date11 October 1991
Docket Number91/1034

[1991] EWCA Civ J1011-6






(MR. MICHAEL WHEELER Q.C., sitting as a

Deputy Judge of the High Court)

Royal Courts of Justice.


Lord Justice Nourse

Lord Justice McCowan

Sir John Megaw


Greta Jessop
(Plaintiff) Appellant
Nigel Jessop
Dorothy Jean Jessop
(Defendants) Respondents

MR. CHRISTOPHER VANE (instructed by Messrs. Jacksons of Stockton-on-Tees) appeared on behalf of the Appellant.

MR. GILES T. HARRAP (instructed by Messrs. Ganvilles of Waterlooville) appeared on behalf of the Respondents.


The deceased with whose estate we are here concerned was a man with two families, one in Cleveland and the other in Portsmouth. Until his death his wife and three children in Cleveland knew nothing of the woman with whom he had lived in Portsmouth for many years, nor of their grown up daughter. The daughter knew nothing of the family in Cleveland. Her mother, although she knew of the wife, knew nothing of the three children and was deceived by the deceased in other important respects. We are not here to pass a moral judgment on his conduct. But in determining for the purposes of section 3(1) of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 whether the disposition of his estate was such as to make reasonable financial provision for his wife, we must recognise that he bore important responsibilities both to her and to the woman with whom he had lived.


The deceased, John Jessop, was born in 1922. He joined the Royal Navy as a boy and served throughout the second World War. In 1946, as a leading seaman of the age of 23, he married Greta Hamilton, who was then aged 27. They had three children: Margaret and Linda, born in 1947 and 1949; and Nigel, who was not born until September 1963. In the early years of the marriage the family home was in Grangetown, where they lived at two different addresses one after the other.


In the summer of 1952 John Jessop met Dorothy Titmus in Portsmouth. They soon became very friendly. She was then separated from her husband, by whom she had had three children. Her marriage was dissolved in 1953. In 1964, with the help of her mother who provided the mortgage deposit of £2,100, Dorothy acquired No. 39 Alameda Road, Purbrook, Portsmouth, as a home for her mother and herself. She has lived there ever since. In the early years she paid her mother a weekly sum which was later treated as interest only and not as any repayment of capital. She says that at about the same time she and John Jessop began living together as man and wife, in the sense that he would live with her in Portsmouth when he was on leave or stationed in the Portsmouth area. She was not initially aware that he was a married man and she remembers being quite shocked when he told her. I continue the narrative in her own words:

"He was not able to obtain a divorce under the law as it then stood and he used to imply that his wife would not divorce him. After discussing this with him on several occasions I accepted the situation. Much later when it became easier to get a divorce, he said he did not want to go ahead with it because he understood his wife had cancer and was likely to die soon. I knew that whilst the Deceased was in the Navy he was making a Naval allotment to his wife and thus maintaining her. At no time did I know that he had any children of his marriage."


In February 1963, some seven months before the birth of Nigel to John and Greta, a daughter, Caren, was born to John and Dorothy. She was born and brought up in Portsmouth and until a few days before John's death she did not know anything about Greta and her children. So far as Caren is concerned, until that time they had led a normal happy family life in Portsmouth. The three children of Dorothy's first marriage also regarded John Jessop as their father.


In October 1970 John retired from the Royal Navy with the rank of chief petty officer. This is what Greta says about him at that stage:

"After retirement the Intestate joined the Corps of Commissionaires and worked at Langstone Road Havant. Then in or about 1976 he became employed by IBM as Security Controller. As far as I was concerned and as far as the Intestate showed the marriage of the Intestate and myself was an entirely happy one. My husband only worked in the south because it had been difficult for him to find work in the north. He had been unemployed for six months in 1970. We moved to 45 Blackbush Walk Thornaby, which is rented accommodation, in October 1971. The Intestate was the tenant of this flat and paid the rates and other outgoings. He informed me that he lived in lodgings in Portsmouth and I had no reason to disbelieve him. He used to telephone me regularly and took a great interest in myself and our children. We were planning a big celebration for our ruby wedding in 1986."


In other evidence Greta and her three children have made it clear that so far as they were concerned the marriage and family life were happy and normal by the standards of one where the father was either in the navy or working in the south. It is true that if you add it all up he did not in the aggregate spend much of those years in Cleveland, probably not more than an average of four periods of about one week in each year. But he always came home regularly until his death and he always kept in contact with his wife and children. Everybody in both families seems to have been attached to him. And he no doubt in his own way was attached to each of them. So far as money was concerned, he sent home enough to Cleveland to look after Greta and her children and, after Caren was born, he paid the regular bills in Portsmouth and gave Dorothy housekeeping money as well.


In 1976, for reasons into which I need not go, Dorothy wished to repay the mortgage deposit on No. 39 Alameda Road to her mother. She did that by raising £2,000 on a building society mortgage. She says that because the society wanted to see sufficient income to support the personal covenant they required in effect that the property should be put into the joint names of herself and John. There has been some dispute as to whether that is a fair explanation of the reasons for dealing with the transaction in that way, but I am certainly prepared to assume that it is. The transaction was effected by a conveyance, in substance a deed of gift of a half-share by Dorothy to John, dated 23rd November 1976, by which the property was conveyed to them both as beneficial joint tenants. They then executed a legal charge as joint mortgagors. In 1979 they obtained a further advance from the building society of about £1,500, which was added to the security. The mortgage instalments were repaid as part of their general expenditure. I should state that at about the same time, in November 1976, Dorothy changed her surname to Jessop by deed poll.


On 6th March 1985 John Jessop died at a hospital in Portsmouth. When Greta and her children learned of his relationship with Dorothy it came as a great shock to them. John died intestate. Letters of administration to his estate were granted to Nigel Jessop on 18th July 1986. The net estate was sworn for probate at just under £2,500. The sole person beneficially entitled to the assets of the estate, which consisted of cash from various sources, was Greta. In addition she became entitled to half the balance standing in a joint account, the half amounting to about £350, and also to the contents of No. 45 Blackbush Walk.


Two other assets, although not assets of the estate, must here be mentioned. First, John Jessop's half beneficial interest in No. 39 Alameda Road passed to Dorothy by survivorship on his death. That half share was valued at £21,000 at that date and at £26,000 in September 1986. But at the time the matter came before the registrar in June 1989 it was thought to be worth about £80,000. Secondly, John Jessop was a beneficiary under the IBM pension plan and the IBM group life assurance plans. In 1978 he signed a life assurance plan form stating that, if practicable, he would like the benefits payable on his death to be paid to Dorothy.


After his death Dorothy was in contact with IBM and, when she told them that she had not been married to John, they made certain inquiries and asked her to provide full details of her financial circumstances. After a careful investigation, they told her that they had decided to pay the lump sum payable under the life assurance plan to her. That sum amounted to £39,552. Under the pension plan Greta was entitled to an annual pension. Although it seems that Dorothy may not have realised this, the pension was payable to John's widow as of right. There was no discretion affecting the destination of that asset.


I now turn to the income and other resources of Greta and Dorothy as they stood when the matter came before the registrar in June 1989. At that stage Greta, who is now aged 72, had a net income of £4,686 per annum, composed as to just under £600 of the IBM pension, as to just over £1,500 of a widow's pension from the Ministry of Defence and, as to the balance, of her state pension. Mr. Harrap, for Dorothy, has correctly emphasised that each of those three pensions is liable to regular increases, the first by way of adjustment as and when the pension trustees can adjust it, the second by way of index linking under arrangements made by the state and the third under the different arrangements made in respect of normal state pensions. At the same time it has to be borne in mind that Greta has always had to pay rent for her accommodation....

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