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Tuesday, 29 September 2020
A LEGAL dispute over two pieces of land in Nettlebed has ended in the descendants of James Bond author Ian Fleming being awarded £1.2 million.
Heirs of Mr Fleming’s grandfather, Robert, had been in dispute with Oxfordshire County Council over almost an acre of land that he donated the original Nettlebed School.
Brothers Michael and Rupert Rittson-Thomas claimed they were entitled to £1.25 million of the £1.35 million that the council made when it sold the land to a property developer to help fund the new Nettlebed Community School.
They argued that the ownership of the land should have reverted to them. The court heard that the original conveyance made clear that the land was given for a school and “for no other purpose whatever”.
But in 2006 the council built the new school on adjacent land which it already owned and transferred the children.
The following year the council sold 0.84 acres of land to Bluespace Property Nineteen for £1,355,000.
The family said they were entitled to a portion of the profits under the Reverter of Sites Act 1987, which governs ownership rights when donated land is no longer used for particular purposes.
The council argued that the Act did not apply as it had used the entire net proceeds of the sale on providing the new school.
A High Court judge ruled in the council’s favour but last week three Appeal Court judges overturned this decision in favour of the family.
Lord Justice Patten said that when the land ceased to be used for a school it automatically reverted to Mr Fleming’s heirs and when it was sold the money was effectively held on trust by the council for them.
He said the outcome would have been different if when the old school was demolished, the site was used as a playground, or for pupil picnics, instead of being left empty before being sold.
The judge, sitting with Lord Justice Hamblen and Lady Justice Nicola Davies, said: “In this case, the old site remained vacant with no possible further use for educational purposes. Since the sale of the old site postdated the removal of the school to the new site by more than a year it is unrealistic to say that the land continued to be used as a site for a school or otherwise for the purposes of education.”
The ruling means that Mr Rittson-Thomas and his brother Michael are each entitled to one sixth of £1,243,819.
The remaining two-thirds of the money will be distributed among the other heirs.
Mr Fleming, a Victorian merchant banker who died in 1933, owned Joyce Grove, which is now a Sue Ryder hospice, where his grandson Ian Fleming, the 007 author, spent much of his youth with his own father, Valentine, after he was killed in the First World War.
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