A bitter family feud has broken out between the children of a petrol station tycoon over how much the multi-million pound family farm they have inherited is worth.
The ‘deep rift’ between three sisters and their brother over the future of the sprawling New Forest property started in the wake of the death of family matriarch Susan Cutts in 2015.
Trustees of the family money want to sign over the late 72-year-old’s farm to her son Alister, 50, for the price of £4.2million. Those proceeds will then be split between the sisters.
But equestrian daughter Charlotte Springall, 48, was furious at this plan, accusing the trustees of favouritism towards her brother.
Now Charlotte – who aspired to compete in the 2012 London Olympics – and her sisters Victoria Delville-Cutts and Cecilia Delville-Lindsay have taken it to the High Court, because they think the farm is worth more like £6.8million.
The siblings are the children of south London garage chain millionaire Oliver Cutts, who rose from being a coalman to a successful tycoon.
Victoria Delville-Cutts (right) and Charlotte Springall (left) are fighting at London’s High Court to stop their brother getting the family farm for a £2.6million discount
Trustees of the family money want to sign over the late 72-year-old’s New Forest farm – worth millions – to her son Alister, 50, (pictured) for the cheap price of £4.2million
Mr Cutts ploughed his multimillion-pound fortune into Folds Farm, Fordingbridge, in the heart of the picturesque New Forest, which passed to his widow Susan upon his death.
The 500-acre farm boasts a thriving livery stable operation and heritage breed cattle and pigs, which are farmed by Alister alongside his plant hire business, as well as lucrative trout fishing in the River Avon and a glamping site.
Prior to their mother’s death, the siblings shared the farm, with first Charlotte – who now runs her own stud and stables – and then Victoria running the equestrian yard.
But lawyers for the trustees of the Cutts family money told the court that after her death, a massive ‘rift’ between the siblings emerged and their mother’s plan for them to run the farm together was no longer viable.
Their mother directed that her fortune be put into trusts for the benefit of all her children, stating that every effort must be made to keep the farm within the family and sale considered only as a ‘last resort’.
The trustees – headed by cousin Paul Cutts – planned to ‘assign’ the farm to Alister for £4.2million – a £2.6million discount on its open market worth, the court was told.
The court heard that the bulk of the £4.2million would then be divided among the sisters, leaving them with over £800,000 each, and the rest of the money would go on tax bills and other expenses.
Charlotte Springall runs her own stud and stables in Salisbury and the professional equestrian aspired to compete in the 2012 London Olympics
Pictured: South London garage chain millionaire Oliver Cutts with his wife Susan Cutts
The sisters say the farm (pictured) is worth at least £6.8million and possibly £10million
The sisters say the farm is worth at least £6.8million and possibly £10million, and the assignment of the farm to Alister would see them ‘exiled’ from the land and leave them out of pocket, the court was told.
They claim the trustees are acting unfairly and their cousin Mr Cutts is displaying favouritism as he is ‘close and friendly’ with their brother.
The sisters now want the farm sold on the open market and the money divided, having previously argued for the land being divided up into parcels but kept within family ownership.
Giving evidence in front of the judge, Master Julia Clark, Victoria, who runs a boutique stable on the Belgium-Holland border specialising in equine salt therapy, said the sisters were being treated unfairly.
She told the court: ‘The mathematics says it. It’s heart-breaking. You are either fair or not fair.
‘My sisters and I don’t mind Alister buying the farm – but at the correct rate.’
Victoria claimed the trustees had a duty to act impartially but favoured Alister.
She pointed to a stuffed pike which Alister told his assistants to buy for Paul Cutts as evidence of the favouritism.
The fish was bought at auction after Alister found out it had been caught by Pauls’ father.
Pictured: Alister Cutts and his sister Charlotte Springall
Aspiring Team GB star Charlotte’s barrister Graham Stott cross-examined Paul Cutts on the matter, asking: ‘Are you telling me Alister has purchased two stuffed fish for you?’
To which Mr Cutts replied: ‘Alister’s assistants purchased two stuffed fish on my behalf.’
Mr Stott said: ‘You are rather close to him aren’t you? You were in touch about him buying items for you at auctions and you also gave him items such as garage doors..
‘You are distributing now to Alister and not the other beneficiaries,’ he alleged.
But Mr Cutts insisted: ‘I’m no closer to Alister than any of the others.’
Continuing to cross-examine Mr Cutts, Mr Stott said: ‘Traditionally, the more something is worth, the more you have to pay for it, but you and your fellow trustees have decided Alister doesn’t have to be charged more for it.
‘The half million difference is because you all favour Alister and have a rather friendly relationship with him,’ he alleged.
Mr Cutts replied: ‘Due process was followed. I’m in no way swayed one way or the other towards Alister.
‘As a discretionary trust, we as trustees are looking primarily to uphold Susan’s deathbed wishes and keep the farm within the family.
‘Within the letter of wishes and the will, there is no mention of fairness. It’s a discretionary trust. A sale to third parties was to be a last resort.
‘I think it was a reasonable decision and as fair as it can be.’
Victoria Delville-Cutts (left), Cecilia Delville-Lindsay (right) and their sister are fighting to stop trustees from giving the family farm to their brother, which they say is favouritism
Daniel Burton, setting out the case on behalf of the trustees of the family trusts, said: ‘The trustees rightly gave great weight to the settlor’s wishes.
‘It’s absolutely right and proper for the trustees to pay close attention to Susan’s wishes, as expressed in the letter of wishes.
‘There is an allegation of partiality here, the preference of Alister over the three sisters.
‘However, in the case of a discretionary trust, to speak of fairness is meaningless.
‘The very discretion is to prefer one beneficiary over another. There is no duty here to treat the beneficiaries equally.
‘The trustees settled on a price that actually meant that Alister could make a go of it.
‘It’s a very deliberate balanced exercise. This has been given very careful thought and consideration.
‘The trustees could have given the whole thing to Alister for free if they chose.
‘It reserves Fold Farm within the family as Susan wanted and creates liquidity.
‘It is a rational and proper decision.
‘The trustees are faced with siblings who simply don’t get on with each other. There is a significant and deep rift between the four children.
‘The trustees have a duty to act impartially, but that is not the same as equal division.’
Turning to the hotly debated fish, the barrister continued: ‘The stuffed fish issue is at its height insufficient. If a staff member sees a fish which is up for sale and has gone to auction and says ‘I don’t mind getting this for you,’ it is not enough.
‘Even if there was a close relationship we are dealing with a small rural community where relationships are close. One has to be realistic.’
The judge reserved her decision on whether to approve the assignment of the farm to Alister at the £4.2million price to a later date.