Widow wins court fight with businessman's children over £4m fortune

US widow of British business tycoon who died on transatlantic cruise wins High Court fight with his children over his £4m fortune

  • Businessman Graham Dines, 69, fell into a coma and died in 2016 while on cruise 
  • Elliott Dines, 42, and Louise Henry, 46, took stepmother Helen Dines to court

The American widow of a business tycoon who died on a transatlantic cruise has won a High Court battle with her British stepchildren over his £4million fortune.

Car dealer turned property king Graham Dines, 69, fell into a coma and died in 2016 whilst on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Southampton, with his wife Helen Dines.

His death sparked a war between Helen, 68, and her stepchildren Elliott Dines, 42, and Louise Henry, 46, with whom she had a ‘strained’ relationship, having begun a relationship with Graham while he was still married to their mother.

Although he handed his son his Rolex watch, Jaguar sports car and powerboat, Graham split the rest of an estimated £3million fortune roughly equally between Helen on one side and his children on the other.

But Elliott and Louise last year took their stepmother to the High Court in a fight over who owns properties and cash worth around another £1.4million.

Helen Dines with her late husband Graham Dines, who died in 2016 whilst on a cruise

On paper, the properties were all either jointly owned by Helen and Graham or in her sole name, but Elliott and Louise claimed they did not really belong to her at all, but to his company, which they inherited.

But now, following a trial last November, a judge has rejected the siblings’ case after finding they had failed to prove the money used to buy the properties belonged to the company and not their father personally.

Judge Andrew Lenon KC said Graham – described by his company’s accountant David Arad as ‘hopelessly disorganised’ – did not have a dedicated company bank account, with personal and business funds and transactions intermingled, meaning his children could not prove that the money for the properties was company money.

During last year’s trial, the court heard that in 1992, just after he and his business partner had sold their car business Grove Motors for more than £1m, Graham met Helen in Boca Raton, Florida, and they began a relationship.

At that time, Graham was still married to first wife Frances Dines – mother of advertising manager Louise and Elliott – and already had a difficult relationship with his son and daughter, the court heard.

Graham handed his son Elliott (pictured for a previous hearing) his Rolex watch, Jaguar sports car and powerboat

Louise (pictured above in the foreground) outside the High Court for a previous hearing

Simon McLoughlin, for the siblings’ company Provincial Equity Finance Ltd (PEF), which brought the claim against Helen, told the judge that Graham’s children and Helen did not get on from the start.

‘The relationship between Helen and Graham’s children was strained to say the least,’ said the barrister.

‘And Elliott and Louise say that Graham’s own volatile relationship with Helen placed additional strains from time to time on their own, already difficult relationship with their father.’

In February 2000, Graham and Frances divorced and a month later he married Helen, with the couple thereafter enjoying an international lifestyle, dividing their time between Florida, Spain and England’s south coast, with homes in each.

Graham’s health was a concern, with him having had a heart attack in 2000 and heart surgery in 2008. He was also hospitalised after a bleed on the brain in 2015.

Then in 2016, on a cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Southampton, whilst on a stopover in Lisbon, he suffered a stroke or cerebral haemorrhage, fell into a coma and subsequently died.

Graham left most of his personal chattels to Helen, as well as his share of their matrimonial home in Poole, £100,000 in cash, his half share in a property in Deerfield Beach, Florida, and his pensions.

Although Elliott got his dad’s Rolex, Jaguar XK8 and Bayliner 21ft sports boat, the rest – including his shares in the company and his half shares in his and Helen’s properties in Spain and Wiltshire – was split equally between his children.

The family ended up in court in a fight over 12 properties in Bournmouth – one of which has since been sold – which were in Helen’s name or in Graham and Helen’s joint names, meaning they passed to her when he died.

Whatever names they were in, the siblings claimed that they were bought with company money and intended to be held on trust for the company, which is now run by Elliott.

They also claimed repayment of £130,000 in cash, which Helen had transferred from Graham’s bank account before he died, but which she claimed was her share of the proceeds of sale of their former home.

But for Helen, barrister Edward Hewitt said claims that the company provided the money for the Bournemouth properties did not ‘stand up to scrutiny.’

‘It is not enough for PEF to show that Helen did not provide the purchase money, it is also not enough for PEF to show that either PEF or Graham provided the purchase money,’ he said.

‘Instead, PEF must positively establish to the court’s satisfaction that PEF alone – and nobody else – provided the purchase money.’

Giving evidence, Helen added: ‘It was Graham’s money. It was all his money. He was in control of the money. He was in control of the company. It’s all him.’

Ruling, Judge Lenon said Graham had been a ‘shrewd businessman’ but not good with paperwork or details.

His friend and accountant, Mr Arad, said the way he had conducted his business was a ‘mess’ with ‘random pieces of paperwork’ instead of organised business records.

PEF had not had its own bank account and Graham’s business and personal transactions were intermingled in various accounts he had in his own name, he said.

He said Elliott and Louise – through PEF – had not managed to prove that the money in the bank accounts – used to buy the properties and from which Helen transferred the £130,000 – was company money.

‘PEF has failed to establish that it, rather than Graham personally, provided the purchase monies for any of the properties,’ he said.

‘The claim to beneficial ownership of the properties based on a resulting trust in its favour must therefore fail.

‘I appreciate that my decision with regard to the ownership of the properties and the £130,000 may come as a great disappointment to Elliott and Louise, who may feel that it is not the outcome of the case that Graham would have wished for.

‘If the outcome differs from what Graham would have wished for, that may be seen as a consequence of what Mr Arad referred to as Graham’s hopeless disorganisation when dealing with paperwork and his failure over many years to organise and document his business finances and transactions with greater rigour.’

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