Dairy farmer's two sons vow to fight court ruling over Yorkshire farm

EXCLUSIVE Dairy farmer’s two sons vow to fight court ruling ordering them to handover share of their £9m fortune to their sister after she claimed she was left ‘nowt’ in her father’s ‘sexist’ will despite years of working for the family business

  • Julie Mate, 62, was left ‘devastated’ after her father left the farm to her brothers 

A wealthy landowner’s sons have vowed to fight a court ruling ordering them to share part of a £9million windfall from the sale of their parents’ farm with their sister.

Julie Mate, 62, won £652,500 after suing her siblings for a share of the spoils generated from selling their late father’s farmland to a property developer.

Their farm on Netherton Moor, near Huddersfield, is in the process of being transformed into 250 homes overlooking the West Yorkshire countryside.

Properties have been marketed by developers Persimmon for up to £370,000.

Ms Mate took her brothers, Andrew and Robert, to court after complaining of being left with ‘nowt’ when their father Donald died in 1992.

Andrew (left) and Robert Mate (right) were sued by their sister, who wanted a share of the family fortune 

 Julie Mate complained that she and her two sisters – who were each left a £12,000 legacy which was later swapped for a cottage – were snubbed despite years of graft on the family farm 

His property portfolio and land were left to his sons and wife Shirley – who later also gave her share to the boys.

Ms Mate complained that she and her two sisters – who were each left a £12,000 legacy which was later swapped for a cottage – were snubbed despite years of graft.

The mother of two, who lives in Shropshire, did not challenge the will.

But she this month secured a £652,000 payout from her brothers’ fortune after a judge found it was her work which saw the value of part of the land rocket from £300,000 to £9million – making them both rich.

Today, Andrew and Robert revealed their intention to appeal – and slammed the suggestion their father left their sisters with nothing.

Robert, 65, who lives in his late father’s farmhouse, said: ‘She was left a cottage and £21,000. The girls have got all the property from dad and myself built and paid for.

‘It’s loads of lies but I’m not feeding the story. I’m not interested. I’m saying nothing.’

Andrew, 60, who lives among four acres of land bought after Donald’s death, confirmed: ‘We are appealing.’

Julie said she had worked alongside her brothers on the land, sacrificing her social and school life to help out as a child, and dreamed of helping to run the farm as an adult.

But she said she was ostracised, with Robert telling her ‘you’re not coming back’ when she left for university, while she says Andrew treated her like ‘a silly woman’.

Judge Andrew Sutcliffe KC said the brothers had been ‘unjustly enriched’ by her years of work in getting the land removed from the green belt so it could be sold to developers to build a 250-home estate and it was right that she should share in the windfall.

The grade II listed farmhouse at Fold Farm in Netherton, West Yorkshire 

The housing development is so large that the estate can be seen from one-and-a-half miles away across the valley.

Persimmon’s blurb says of the development: ‘For a full range of shops, entertainment and leisure facilities, it’s easy to get into Huddersfield from Castle View. It will feel like the best of both worlds living here – village life with the back-up of a busy market town.

‘For a change of scenery and a family day out, the Peak District National Park is a short drive directly south of your new home here.’

The court heard that the siblings’ parents, Donald and Shirley, now 89, had been partners in a milk bottling and retail business run from Fold Farm in Netherton. 

A 19-home luxury development is currently underway with homes there priced at up to £900,000.

In evidence, Julie told the judge that all five brothers and sisters had worked ‘long hours’ on the farm as children, feeding livestock, bottling milk and helping out with the milk round.

She said she had wanted to have a full role as an adult, but that Robert and Andrew had made it clear she was not wanted there and, as a result, she did not return and become involved in the business after university.

From her childhood, she did not have a good relationship with the boys, she said, pointing to incidents when a 17-year-old Andrew had driven a Land Rover at her in the farmyard and when Robert, then 23, put his hands around her throat and said ‘you’re not coming back’ – meaning she was not to return to the farm after her studies.

‘Although Robert and Andrew denied or did not recall these incidents, I accept that they occurred,’ said the judge in his ruling on the case.

Fold Farm in Netherton, near Huddersfield, which was at the centre of the family dispute 

Julie went on to study animal science at university and worked as an agricultural journalist and a senior executive in dairy companies and farming organisations.

She now lives in North Shropshire with her partner Tom Biggins, where she runs a herd of red deer, farming venison for Waitrose and M&S.

When their father died, he left his share of the 140-acre farm to his wife Shirley and the sons, with his daughters – Julie, Gillian Robson and Virginia Boothroyd – sharing only £36,000 between them.

A cottage was later left to the sisters in lieu of the payments because of insufficient funds.

Prior to Donald’s death, Julie also received about £21,000 from her parents as a deposit for a flat.

Her sisters were also handed £20,000.

The judge said Julie was unhappy with the terms of the will and felt like it gave the daughters only ‘token recognition’ for their work.

By the beginning of the 2000s, the farm was beginning to struggle and Julie started to look into ways of making money from the land in order to realise some gains in which ‘us girls’ could also share, Julie claimed.

She said that, from 2007 at the latest and encouraged by her mother, she had started looking into the potential for redevelopment of 40 acres of farmland, known as Netherton Moor.

She deployed a planning consultant and worked on the project between 2008 and late 2015, claiming she relied on promises made to her by her mother that if she secured its allocation for housing, the proceeds would be shared equally in the family.

Judge Andrew Sutcliffe KC said the brothers had been ‘unjustly enriched’ by her years of work in getting the land removed from the green belt so it could be sold to developers to build a 250-home estate and it was right that she should share in the windfall

After the land was identified as suitable for housing by the local council in 2012, Julie called her brother Andrew to update him about what was going on.

But it resulted in an angry exchange, during which, in response to her saying she had done the work ‘on behalf of the girls,’ Andrew asked Julie: ‘What’s it got to do with you?’

‘She described it as ‘his typical rant,’ which she understood to mean ”push off, you silly woman”,’ said the judge.

In 2016, Shirley executed a deed of trust, handing her beneficial interest in the land to her two sons.

In 2020, Julie launched her High Court bid for a share of the spoils, which her mother Shirley did not contest, but her two brothers fiercely fought through a two-week trial last year.

In his ruling, the judge said Julie and her brothers were ‘no longer on speaking terms’ but had not been friendly even before the court case and there was clear ‘animosity’ between them.

Julie sued her mother and two brothers, claiming unsuccessfully that she had been promised an equal share of the proceeds of sale if she managed to have the land removed from the Green Belt.

The judge said there was no documentary evidence to show that such promises were in fact made and the first time Julie even mentioned them was in a letter in 2020.

But she also sued for ‘unjust enrichment,’ claiming that they had benefited hugely from her work and that she never intended to do it ‘for nowt.’

Ruling in her favour on that point, the judge said: ‘I accept Julie’s evidence that at no time did she tell either of her brothers or Shirley that she would work on this project for nothing, without expectation of any reward.

‘On the contrary, from the time when the issue was first raised by Julie with Shirley, Andrew and Robert in 2004, Julie was clear that she saw the possibility of developing part of the farm as a way she and her sisters could benefit.

‘When the matter was raised again in earnest by Julie in 2008, her separate discussions with all three of them left them in no doubt that she expected to benefit from the sale proceeds if the land was sold for development.

‘Shirley, Andrew and Robert obtained the benefit of Julie’s services, at Julie’s expense, in circumstances where they had notice of the services, they knew that Julie expected a reward for her services, and they could have rejected the benefit, but did not.

‘They were enriched by Julie’s services in circumstances which were unjust because they knew she was not providing those services gratuitously and they made no attempt to reward her for them.

‘In the circumstances, Andrew and Robert have been enriched by Julie’s services and such enrichment was unjust.’

The judge awarded Julie a payment of £652,000 from her brothers, representing a 7.5 per cent share of the uplift in value of the land from its original value of £300,000 to the £9m it sold for.

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