saints

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".

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Comments

Anonymous 04 February 22 09:19

I think SOCA need to have a look at this estate and appoint a proceeds of crime act reveiver.

FlyingSquad 04 February 22 10:26

SOCA is indeed now part of the National Crime Agency and has been since 2013. Do keep up. The Conservatives love to change the name of departments and agencies every few years to cover their tracks and avoid accountability.

NCA still ought to have a poke around in this guy's dealings, though.

No idea what I'm on about 04 February 22 10:35

"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". 

I'm no authority at all on the rules of evidence, and this all seems very murky. But I am surprised that a judge is, in part at least, allowed to reach his conclusions because a witness give him a funny look.   

Just Saying 04 February 22 10:44

It does seem like this solicitor has behaved pretty terribly, but there is some truth in the statement that if you want a Will doing for £140 then you're getting names and addresses filled in on a template and nothing more.

If your family situation is super straightforward, no IHT likely to be paid and all assets being left to a spouse, then maybe you can get away with something super cheap. The moment you have assets above the IHT threshold, you want to make provision for a spouse while leaving assets to children or you have children from prior marriages etc, you are an idiot not to pay for your Will to reviewed properly.

Same with conveyancing. If you want to buy a bog standard freehold house from current owners with an existing mortgage granted in recent years and you are prepared for fairly bad service, you can possibly go cheap. Anything more complicated (particularly leasehold new builds, share of freehold flats etc) it's a false economy to skimp as you're guaranteeing that if there are major issues they won't be picked up.

I don't envy private client lawyers and other lawyers providing services to non-corporate clients when there are so many individuals who simply don't value (and thus aren't prepared to pay) for legal advice.

Anon 04 February 22 11:13

@ 10:44

It seems that the judge found it difficult to accept the solicitor's explanation for the brevity of the will...  Hence his finding that the Claimant had not proved that the deceased knew of or approved of that will.  The whole thing stinks.  The SRA will be sniffing around very soon I'm sure.

beowulf 62 04 February 22 11:38

Assessment of a witness's demeanour is part of their testimony and the evidential weight assigned to that testimony. Although obviously, you can take a "funny look" too far. Many witnesses, if not all, do give body language tells. 

Tarmack 04 February 22 16:37

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and guess that the funeral involved a carriage drawn by many white horses.

Paul 04 February 22 17:35

"One might have thought that the involvement of a solicitor would strengthen the presumption of validity. In this case it is quite the reverse"

Sounds like a great judgement, one for the scrap book.

Denning 05 February 22 08:52

The full Judgment is even more scathing of Mr Curnock! The SRA definitely need to get involved.

Anonymous 05 February 22 15:22

1 - how the hell do you (legally) become a multimillionaire if you can’t even read or write?! 
 

2 - she sounds like a piece of work alright, but she got glassed and her old man blamed her for it?! The apple didn’t fall far from the tree there. 

Witness prep 06 February 22 13:16

Actually, the very first thing to teach a witness is: If the cross-examiner asks about a doc, request the doc, read it, what comes before, what comes after the passage that they are being asked about. Because the cross-examiner will pick a phrase and take it out of context, and try to get the witness to say yes.

So here the judge criticises the witness for exactly that? Oh boy, I thought all English judges used to be barristers earlier in their careers?

 

Bored lawyer 06 February 22 13:29

It would appear that Mr Curnock has already been sanctioned for his probate activities on another matter:

https://www.sra.org.uk/consumers/solicitor-check/416124/

Free The Waist Coat 07 February 22 12:22

How many of the poor horses' heads are now in Mr Curnock's bed? Yikes.  All for £140.

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