A FRAIL 99-year-old widow is locked in a bitter legal battle with her own grandson who claims he was promised her sprawling Monmouthshire estate when she dies.
David Nugent has gone to court with claims that he is entitled to Court Farm, in Llantilio Crosseny, on the death of his grandmother, Sarah Jane Nugent, who is known as Sadie.
"His case is that he was promised the farm by Mrs Nugent and her late husband and that he acted to his detriment in reliance on those promises," Mr Justice Morgan told the High Court in London.
"Mrs Nugent has now made it clear that she does not intend to leave the farm to David on her death," said the judge, who added: "David says that Mrs Nugent is acting unconscionably and that the court has power to intervene on his behalf, even in Mrs Nugent's lifetime".
David Nugent's lawyers are seeking a court declaration that his grandmother has no right to sell off any more of the farm "than is reasonably needed to meet her needs and debts", and that the estate should be left to him in her will.
However, Mrs Nugent's legal team is vigorously defending the lawsuit, insisting that there were "no promises of the kind alleged made by her late husband - or by herself - and that David is not entitled to any relief in relation to the farm".
The case reached court in a preliminary clash after David Nugent formally registered a "unilateral notice" against his grandmother's property "to protect the interest which he claims in these proceedings".
Mrs Nugent's lawyers asked the judge to cancel that notice and Mr Justice Morgan ruled in her favour on that issue.
The judge said Court Farm had been owned by her alone since the death of her husband, George, in 1984, adding: "The farm comprises a farmhouse, some outbuildings and about 74 acres of land".
Mrs Nugent has two children - Richard and Stephen - and David Nugent is Richard's son, the judge added.
During the court hearing, it emerged that Mrs Nugent currently lacks legal "capacity" to conduct her own defence in the legal action, and Mr Justice Morgan said he had accepted that her son, Stephen, could act as her "litigation friend".
Stephen Nugent had a "very obvious interest in the outcome of this litigation", said the judge, who added: "It seems likely that he has taken the lead in instructing solicitors to act on behalf of Mrs Nugent".
Although recognising that David had an "arguable case", the judge concluded that "justice required" him to grant an order cancelling the notice so that Mrs Nugent can, if necessary, sell off or mortgage parts of the farm to raise funds to defend his claim.
Noting that Mrs Nugent already has a £51,000 overdraft, the judge said she had no alternative source of funds to pay her legal expenses.
He added: "It would be unjust to her, and to those who hope to inherit her estate, if she did not have the advantage of legal advice and representation in relation to this claim.
"The claim is a substantial and significant claim in terms of the amount involved and the importance to those directly and indirectly affected.
"Although I do not have a precise figure for the value of the farm, I am able to conclude that, even if Mrs Nugent did spend the full amount that she seeks to be allowed to spend, and sold a part of the farm for that purpose, the greater part of the farm would remain available to David Nugent, should he succeed in his claim."
The case will now return to court at a later date for a full hearing of the issues, unless those involved settle before then.