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Norfolk farmer, 89, 'forced to change will' claim

PUBLISHED: 06:30 23 February 2010 | UPDATED: 09:19 01 August 2010

Richard and Margaret Key

Richard and Margaret Key

Emily Dennis

A millionaire Norfolk farmer was “plied” with alcohol and sleeping tablets by his daughters before they forced him to sign a will leaving them hundreds of thousands of pounds, it was alleged yesterday .

A millionaire Norfolk farmer was “plied” with alcohol and sleeping tablets by his daughters before they forced him to sign a will leaving them hundreds of thousands of pounds, it was alleged yesterday .

89-year-old George Key, from Mundham, near Loddon, was grieving for his wife - who had died just days earlier after a 65-year marriage - when his daughters “orchestrated” a plot to get their hands on £300,000 each, London's High Court was told.

Mr Key's son, Richard Key, claims that his father wanted just his sons to have his substantial property, Hall Farm, Loddon Road, Mundham.

Giving evidence, Mr Key, who is in his early 60s, said that his father had intended to leave the farm to him and brother John because they had worked in the family business from the age of 15.

Lawyers for the two brothers say that their father lacked the mental capacity required to make a will, and did not know or approve of its contents, when he put pen to paper at the age of 89 in December 2006.

If the brothers succeed, they will inherit the bulk of his estate under a 2001 will, while their sisters, Jane Key and Mary Boykin, will get just £15,000 between them. The sisters deny all the accusations.

Mr Key claimed they had “forced” their father to sign the will. In his witness statement, he said that his sisters “plied” their father with sleeping tablets and alcohol, leaving him “confused and disinhibited” before he signed the will.

“They definitely doubled the sleeping tablets to knock him out, and this bottle of whisky was being kept in his house for several years and it was strangely emptied the next time I went there,” he told Mr Justice Briggs.

Mr Key said that his father “wasn't capable of understanding what he had got”, saying that he was so stricken with grief at the death of his wife that he was “not on this planet”.

Simon Redmayne, barrister for the Keys brothers, said that the elderly farmer was becoming increasingly forgetful in the years before his eventual death in August 2008 and had memory problems.

Those who knew Mr Key snr, including his cleaner and the landlady of his local pub, have given evidence to support claims that he could not have known what he was doing, with one close friend saying he had what he considered to be “advanced Alzheimer's”.

Mary Frost, Mr Key's domestic help, said: “Mr Key said to me, 'The girls got me to sign something but I don't know what it was for'.”

However, John Ross Martyn, barrister for Miss Key and Mrs Boykin, said there was “limited evidence” to back up Mr Key's allegations against his sisters, and because of that “serious doubt must be cast” on the accuracy of his testimony.

It is Mr Ross Martyn's case that not only did Mr Key snr know what he was doing, it was perfectly logical for him to leave his daughters £300,000 each because he had already left land worth the equivalent to his sons.

Mr Key was “clearly aware” of how much his estate was worth, said Mr Ross Martyn, and his will was drawn up by a firm of solicitors who had acted for him for many years. All he wanted to do was treat his four children equally, he added.

He alleged that, on April 30, 2007, Richard Key attempted to have his father seen by a doctor without his knowledge, prompting Mr Key snr to become “irritated, suspicious and angry”.

Mrs Boykin admitted that she could be “forthright”, but denied suggestions she was “bossy”, and, like her sister, vigorously denies all her brothers' accusations.

“I did not lead my father; I categorically deny ever leading my father; I wouldn't do that,” she said.

“Honesty is what I stand for. I'm an honest, decent person and so was my father and he wanted to put things right. There was no undue influence on my part.

“My father was not a person who would do something he didn't wish to do. He was extremely stubborn up until his death.”

Both sides have called expert medical evidence in the case, with doctors differing in their opinion as to whether or not Mr Key had “testamentary capacity” to make a valid will.

Mr Justice Briggs reserved his ruling to a later date.

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