Burnetts’ litigation lawyers successfully brought a claim to establish property ownership in the case of a cohabiting couple, where one of the couple died suddenly without a will. Evidence gained through social media and private messages played an important role in the three-day trial which took place in the High Court of Justice in Bristol in December 2017. The judgment was handed down recently.
In Culliford & Anor v Thorpe, Burnetts acted for Joe Thorpe against the siblings of his deceased partner Rodney Culliford.
In the introduction to his judgment, HHJ Paul Matthews said, “This is my judgment on a claim and counterclaim in relation to a residential property known as ‘the Weston 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.”
It was Mr Thorpe’s case that he and Mr Culliford had decided to share their resources and that they had an agreement to rent out Mr Thorpe’s property whilst renovating and living in Mr Culliford’s Weston-super-Mare home. When Mr Culliford died suddenly, his family attempted to take possession of the Weston property. Mr Thorpe defended that claim of possession and brought his own claim of an interest in the property, based on the agreement he had with Mr Culliford.
As evidence of his claim Mr Thorpe was able to demonstrate the considerable work he had himself carried out in renovating the Weston property, much of that evidence involved social media messages. This was a key factor in convincing HHJ Paul Matthews who awarded Mr Thorpe half of the Weston property and his legal costs.
James Johnston was the Burnetts’ Partner supervising Mr Thorpe’s case. He said “Cases of this nature are often very difficult to prove so this was a win against the odds. It’s been an extremely interesting and at times challenging case, which has had to include managing social media data and introducing that into evidence. Managing the volume of that type of evidence was key. Ultimately we had to demonstrate that a promise had been made to Joe and that he acted on it and keep our focus on that.”
“Apart from adding to the extensive case law about a complex area of property law, the case highlights the importance of making a will, especially for cohabiting couples.”
Practising Consultant Sally Johnson was also a crucial member of Burnetts’ team. Joss Knight from St John’s Chambers was Mr Thorpe’s barrister.
Culliford & Anor v Thorpe, Court of Appeal - Chancery Division, March 08, 2018,  EWHC 426 (Ch) has been reported extensively in the legal press including at http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Ch/2018/426.html
For further information on Burnetts’ dispute resolution team, visit www.burnetts.co.uk.