last will

Children fail in challenge to will of ‘cruel and spiteful’ father who hired hitman to kill wife

The children of a “cruel and spiteful” property tycoon have failed in challenging their father’s £6 million will after the man, who once hired a hitman to kill his wife, cut them out of his estate.

Norman Gill died aged 83 in 2018 after a “successful and driven” career in property. He had pled guilty to conspiring to murder his wife in 1979, paying two “hitmen” – who turned out to be policemen – £3,250 to assassinate his wife.

At the time, it was suggested this was due to “morbid jealousy syndrome”, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health difficulties, and business failures.

Upon his release he rebuilt his career and a £6 million fortune through a property management company, Whitehall Industrial Securities Ltd, and was described as a “wealthy but mad company director”.

However, in his latest will he left gifts of just £5,000 to each of his children: Jessica, Marcus, and Elizabeth. He left a far more substantial £2 million to extended family members, assistants, carers, and friends. The rest of the estate went to the Norman Gill Charitable Trust.

Jessica, his eldest child, challenged the 2018 will, describing it as “irrational” and that he “suffered a personality disorder diagnosed in 1979 which poisoned the natural affection for his children and grandchildren”.

The case went before Mr Justice Williams in the High Court in Birmingham. The Court heard of the tensions between Gill and his children, with Williams J stating [70, 71]:

“It is […] clear to me that Norman lacked any understanding or insight of the emotional harm suffered by the children during their childhood. Rather he continued to view himself as the victim, as evidenced by the letter he sent to Marcus and his wife dated 12th August 2013, in which he complains of having received no help from the family following the marriage breakdown in 1979. At that time, the children were aged between ten and thirteen.

Norman loved his children and was financially generous towards them, but exploited his financial wealth as a means of exerting control over his children.”

Gill’s relationship was reportedly “turbulent” with his children in his final years, with him tending to cut contact off only to suddenly restart it later on. Nevertheless, he drew up a will in 2015 which left legacies of £175,000 to each of his children, their partners, and his grandchildren, and £1.4 million to the trustees of the Family Trust.

This didn’t last long, as Gill wrote the new will in 2018 after relations jaded between himself and his children. This culminated in a letter from Jessica in 2017 which stated [59]:

“I am afraid I am going to have to ask you to cease all communication with me and my family.”

Jessica said the complexity of the relationship with her father had worsened her anxiety and associated health problems and caused her to have to take time off work. She continued:

“I have always found it difficult that when discussing events in 1979 and the violent episodes prior to that, as you have only wanted to talk about how hard done by you have been and to convey your version of events. You have always failed to appreciate the very significant impact that has had on your children.”

After Gill’s death from a stroke, this escalated into a challenge to his will from Jessica where, as well as claiming it was “irrational”, she said it was executed at a time her father was vulnerable and frail.

Despite this, Williams J said [81]:

“There are no circumstances which excite suspicion that the will did not represent Norman’s intentions at the time of execution.”

Also, while the psychiatric evidence centred on whether Gill may have had a personality disorder, Williams J said [74, 75]:

“It is by no means the case that having a personality disorder necessarily entails loss of testamentary capacity and in his experience would be unusual.

I note that Jessica has never suggested that [Gill] lacked testamentary capacity at the time of execution of the 2015 will.”

Concluding at [80], Williams J said that, “Whilst [Gill’s] decision to disinherit the children and grandchildren may be regarded as unfair, that decision was not irrational.” He pointed out that the departure from the 2015 will was “unremarkable and explicable”, adding:

“[Gill] loved his children and financially benefited the children during his life, but that came at a price, in that he expected them to do what he told them to do. He lacked empathy and was unable or unwilling to accept any responsibility for the permanent breakdown in the relationship with his children.

He knew his mind and had strong, and at times, blinkered views.

Once [Gill] concluded that his children were not willing to reconcile, [he] pursued his plan to establish an alternative long term legacy with his usual drive, vigour, and attention to detail.

The will followed the broad structure of [Gill’s] earlier wills, by giving substantial pecuniary legacies to those he considered deserving, before placing the residuary estate into a long running trust, albeit replacing the Family Trust with the Charitable Trust.”

He therefore said:

“In the absence of any such irrationality or suspicion, then I am satisfied that due execution is sufficient to establish the validity of the will, and I accordingly make a declaration in solemn form to that effect.”

Wilkinson & Ors v Hicken (Re Last Will of Norman Walter Gill) [2023] EWHC 1983 (Ch) (18 May 2023)

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