• December 1, 2023
 Astronomer causes legal battle after leaving 400k to anonymous “best mate”

Astronomer causes legal battle after leaving 400k to anonymous “best mate”

Deathbed will leads to dispute with the the British Astronomical Association

A Northamptonshire astronomer has caused a probate dispute after leaving £400,000 in his will to his “best mate” who nobody knows.

Roy Panther rose to fame after discovering the Comet Panther in the 1980s by using a homemade telescope. He was even interviewed by Sir Patrick Moore on BBC’s The Sky at Night.

Panther died in 2016, aged 90, and it was thought that his estate, including his home in Northamptonshire, was left to the British Astronomical Association (BAA). This was as per a will he wrote in 1986 where other than some money left to two friends the rest of his estate was left to the BAA. However, it was discovered that Panther wrote another will on his deathbed which left everything to his “best mate” but did not specify the name of the fried. This has caused Alan Gibbs, who claims he was Panther’s lifelong friend, to bring the matter to court claiming he was the friend referred to.

The will written on September 11, 2016, said that “if I die” Panther’s estate should go to “my best mate”. Gibbs’ barrister, Chris Bryden, stated:

“Mr Gibbs and the deceased were lifelong friends, having known each other for around 77 years. They shared a keen interest in astronomy and together established an observatory. The deceased purchased the premises and Mr Gibbs provided equipment for this observatory.

It is admitted and averred that the 2016 will does not refer to Mr Gibbs by name but rather to ‘best mate’. However, the compelling inference is that the deceased by this phrase was referring to Mr Gibbs.

The deceased dictated the terms of the 2016 will to Mr Gibbs. It is therefore natural that he used a colloquial phrase, rather than identifying him by name. The ordinary and natural meaning of the phrase ‘best mate’ and the intention of the deceased was clearly to refer to Mr Gibbs.”

The BAA have refuted these claims, stating that Panther was not of sound mind when writing the will in hospital, as it has also been revealed that Panther was suffering from dementia at the time. They also state that as Gibbs was never named Gibbs’ claiming to be Panther’s “best mate” is not sufficient to be entitled to the estate. The BAA’s barrister Mukhtiar Singh stated:

“The deceased was extremely vulnerable from 30 August 2016 until he passed away. At the time of making the handwritten note, the deceased lacked capacity and did not understand the nature and effect of it. The deceased had serious communication difficulties due to his hearing and/or he was unable to make decisions for himself due to his cognitive impairment.

The deceased himself dictated the terms of the 2016 will and was aware of the nature and extent of his property and clearly expressed that he wished for Mr Gibbs to receive the same.”

A three-day trial has been set at Central London County Court next year.

Joseph Mullane