£750,000 award for scrap dealer's widow

THE widow of a wealthy scrap-metal dealer has been handed a £750,000 portion of his estate after a judge ruled he did not leave her enough in his will.

THE widow of a wealthy scrap-metal dealer has been handed a £750,000 portion of his estate after a judge ruled he did not leave her enough in his will.

Ipswich businessman Geoffrey Baker - who died in a “tragic accident” aged 61 in 2001 and whose estate is worth up to £1,350,000 - had not been generous enough to his wife, Susan, 57, and she deserved more, Judge Paul Chaisty QC told London's High Court.

Mrs Baker had been left with so little that she had to take her case to court on legal aid and the judge said that, “very sadly”, she had in the past even been forced to pawn jewellery so that she could buy train tickets to attend court hearings.

Effectively re-writing Mr Baker's will in his widow's favour, Judge Chaisty said she was entitled to ownership of the former matrimonial home - a detached house in Henley Road, Ipswich, worth about £340,000 - along with a £410,000 lump sum.

Apart from the matrimonial home, Mr Baker's main asset was his scrap metal and vehicle recovery business - Whip Street Motors, based in Great Whip Street, Ipswich - which is now run by their four sons, Geoffrey, Jodhie, Kevin and Greg.

Since their father's death, the four sons have thrust the business forward through their own dedication and hard work, to the point where, in the year end March 2006, it made profits before tax of more than £400,000. The company also has about £800,000 in the bank.

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Paying tribute to the sons' efforts, Judge Chaisty said: “If they had not picked up the reins and continued the business it may well, and probably would, have simply folded.”

But the judge said he was in no doubt that Mr Baker had not made “reasonable financial provision” for his widow in his will.

What money she did receive from the estate had now been spent and the modest income she once received from the business had now stopped.

Judge Chaisty added: “Mrs Baker is now legally aided, she explained how, very sadly, she has in the past been forced to pawn jewellery in order to purchase train tickets to attend court hearings.

“I have no hesitation in concluding that his (Mr Baker's) will failed to make reasonable financial provision for his wife and partner of over 20 years and mother of his four sons.”

Speaking after the hearing last night, the sons' solicitor Rodney Hylton-Potts said: “All four brothers are delighted the dispute is over and thank their customers for their wonderful support.

“We hope our father would be proud of how we built upon his business which is still growing.”

The four sons' “significant success” in improving the business had to be recognised, but so did their mother's efforts in bringing them up and looking after the home and family, said Judge Chaisty.

Mrs Baker had sought a £550,000 lump sum, as well as ownership of the family home, but the judge reduced this to £410,000. Including the value of the house, the judge's decision gives the widow assets and cash worth about £750,000 in total.

That is more than half the total of her dead husband's estate, which Judge Chaisty valued at between £1,150,000 and £1,350,000.

Earlier barrister Richard Buswell, for the four sons, told Judge Chaisty that, before Mr Baker's death, Whip Street Motors was operating “successfully but modestly”.

He said it was thanks to their “drive, ambition, business acumen and hard work” that annual turnover had risen from around £450,000 when their father died to £2.7m in 2006.

Mrs Baker, who married her husband in 1986, told the judge from the witness box that she had endured “six years of absolute hell” since her husband died and had found the legal dispute “extremely heartbreaking”.

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