Louise, Dan, and a whole lot of cash.
A solicitor has been criticised by a judge for his "reckless and quite possibly dishonest" conduct drawing up a will for an illiterate Southampton tycoon who was worth £100m.
Mr Justice Michael Green said that Daniel Curnock, a probate lawyer, sided with Kevin Reeves' daughter, Louise Reeves, by giving "untruthful evidence".
Reeves claimed that a will drawn up by Curnock in 2014 which left 80% of her father's estate to her and 20% to her half-sister should be upheld, and that a 2012 will which spread the wealth more evenly across his wider family should be ignored. Relatives claimed the wills had changed dramatically as a result of "undue influence" exerted by Reeves over her father, who died in 2019, and that he could not read and had not understood the 2014 will.
The judge described Kevin Reeves as "the toughest, hardest man in business that you were ever likely to meet", who used "the c-word incessantly and indiscriminately" and could be "quite brutal to anyone". When Reeves got glassed in a pub while she was dating a member of a Southampton crime family, her father responded by using the "memorable but highly disturbing phrase, 'lay with dogs and you get fleas'".
Relatives said Reeves was prone to "acting violently and ruthlessly and having a terrible temper" as well, and accused her of using her "manipulative character" to get her hands on her father's wealth. She attempted to refute their claims by portraying herself as a loving daughter, but the judge said her evidence "began to unravel" on the stand.
"She had a tendency to look intently towards me with a knowing, sarcastic smile, as though to say it was perfectly obvious that everything that was being said by the Defendants’ witnesses was untruthful", said the judge. "She went too far with this and thereby undermined her own evidence".
Reeves attempted to persuade the court that her father had intended to cut his grandchildren out of his will because he "actually hated" them, and that she and Curnock were doing her father's bidding when they evicted the children and their mother from a family property. Reeves orchestrated the eviction with the "willing connivance" of Curnock, said the judge, and the incident "indicates how heartless and manipulative she could be".
Her "propensity to bully and demean others" included a "particularly egregious case concerning a frail, poor and downtrodden man" who lived in a caravan on Kevin Reeves' land and gave evidence despite being in a "visibly terrified state". He testified that Reeves told him, "Pack your shit and get off my fucking land" when her father died, and then had his caravan burnt down without notice.*
The judge said there was "far more to the relationship" between Reeves and Curnock "than either of them are letting on" and that Curnock had attempted to "conceal the extent of their dealings together".
Curnock's preparation of the 2014 will was "very strange", said the judge. Despite being his wealthiest client, Curnock insisted that because Kevin Reeves negotiated a fixed fee of £140, he "would not be able to provide a first class service", comparing it to "the quality of clothes at Primark".
The judge said it was "extraordinary" that Curnock wrote his deletions and amendments directly onto the original 2012 will while it was still valid. "One might have thought that the involvement of a solicitor would strengthen the presumption of validity. In this case it is quite the reverse", said the judge.
In court, the solicitor had "an annoying habit of buying time in the witness box" by insisting on reading the whole of every document he was taken to, and "persistently tried to avoid answering the question by asking questions back either to counsel or the Court", said the judge. He said it was "actually quite distressing" that "I cannot safely rely on the evidence from an officer of the court", noting that "There could be serious consequences for him as a result of my findings".
Addressing claims of witness intimidation, he determined that Reeves was the most likely author of a note found amongst her father's papers which said in capitals, "WILL YOU WITHDRAW STATEMENT YOU SNIDE C*** YOU SHOULD NOT OF MADE STATEMENT FULL STOP".
The judge did not find that Reeves had exerted undue influence over her father, but he found that she had not proved that Kevin Reeves knew and approved of the 2014 will, and ruled that the 2012 will was therefore valid.
*A local farmer told the court he was shocked when he told Reeves that he couldn't locate a buyer for her father's beloved horses, and she replied that he could just keep them and "sell them for meat".