Mother in dispute with daughters over €30m estate intends to provide for her children

The estate in Co Louth was purchased by the late horse trainer and jockey, Bunny Cox in 1958
Mother in dispute with daughters over €30m estate intends to provide for her children

High Court reporters

Sally Cox, the widow of the late horse trainer and jockey Bunny Cox, has told the High Court it is her intention to provide for her four children and seven grandchildren from the €30 million family estate which has been the subject of a long-running dispute.

The case centres on a March 2005 deed to transfer ownership of the estate in Lisnawilly, Dundalk, Co Louth into the joint names of Bunny and Sally, as well as a will from June 2005 which divided the estate between the mother and the adult children; Jennifer, Suzanne, Michelle and Richard.

A court-appointed administrator to the estate sought to have the 2005 joint ownership agreement set aside for reasons of undue influence on Mr Cox, who bought the estate in 1958.

Mrs Cox claimed the will dividing the estate, drawn up a few months before Bunny's death from cancer, was made under undue influence as her husband was on "potent medication" at the time.

The daughters claimed it was always their father's intention that they receive a share of the estate. A number of developers had approached the family with a view to buying because of its location and development zoning.

The administrator's action began in 2018 but was settled after the start of the case. However, the agreement broke down and the case returned to the court this week when evidence was heard from a number of witnesses, including Suzanne and Michelle.

'Tragic'

On Friday, following submissions from Louis McEntagart SC and James McGowan SC, on behalf of the administrator, and from Mrs Cox, who represented herself, Mr Justice Denis McDonald reserved his decision.

The judge said he wished he did not have to adjudicate on a dispute like this because it is much better resolved within the family. However, he said it was his duty now to determine the matter "however tragic" it may be that a third party such as he had to interfere in this way.

He was conscious there had been several attempts to resolve the issue which had come to nothing, adding that it was against that background on which he had to rule.

Mr McEntagart said if the court finds the transfer of ownership should be set aside, as his client was arguing for, it was then that the question of the June 2005 will comes into play.

Mrs Cox urged the judge not to set aside the joint ownership decision, claiming Bunny had full capacity when he signed that deed.

It was the couple’s intention that provision for their three daughters would be addressed by way of a joint venture development agreement with Bunny's friend, the late fruit importer Neil McCann. As Bunny had wished, it was her intention to carry out his wishes out of love and affection for all her children and grandchildren "as soon as I can".

She said: "I was also accused of being a bad mother and there was an insinuation that Bunny was an extremely stupid man allowing himself to fall in love with a woman of bad quality and bullying."

She said her daughters' testimony had been "coloured" by a number of things including media reports and the advice of senior counsel Paul Callan who was a friend of Bunny through their common interest in racing and horses.

'Inappropriate interference'

Mr Callan, who was not involved in the case, gave evidence that he had advised the Cox's of the implications of Section 117 of the Succession Act (making provision for children) in the context of a time when their second eldest, Suzanne, was in a relationship of which the parents did not approve.

Arising out of that advice, the June 2005 will was drawn up in which the daughters were to get 10 per cent of the estate, Richard 20 per cent (in trust) and the mother 50 per cent.

Mrs Cox said it was her "firm belief that the inappropriate interference of Paul Callan, who unilaterally decided to involve himself, is the cause of this and of this most serious rift between parents and children".

She said it was the result of Mr Callan's "false portrayal" of what could happen under Succession Act proceedings that led to "most serious and undue pressure being imposed upon us".

She said it was also claimed that if she got money from the joint venture agreement she would spend it all: "But I have managed for the past 16 years with a millstone around my neck."

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