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Folds Farm in Fordingbridge can be sold to Alister Cutts, rules High Court judge Master Julia Clark, after bias claims over stuffed fish

A man’s bid to buy his parents’ farm can go ahead despite accusations of improper conduct involving a stuffed fish.

Alister Cutts wanted to buy Folds Farm, near Fordingbridge, through a trust for £4.2 million although estate agents had valued it at between £6.4 million and £10 million.

But his family claimed that price was too low and that gifts of a taxidermy pike worth £950 to the director of the trustees had influenced the sale.

Folds Farm at Fordingbridge (picture: Google)
Folds Farm at Fordingbridge (picture: Google)

The row ended up in London’s High Court where Mr Cutts’ three sisters claimed he had been shown “favouritism” by trustee Paul Cutts, a cousin, during negotiations over the sale of the farm.

Mr Cutts’ siblings said the stuffed fish gift was indicative of an “overly close relationship” between their brother and the trustee.

However, this claim was dismissed by judge Master Julia Clark who said the stuffed fish present claim was “unarguable”.

Mr Cutts and his three sisters were all beneficiaries of a trust set up by their parents Oliver and Susan Cutts. Oliver became a petrol station tycoon after starting life as a coalman, and died in 1995.

His wife Susan took over running the farm, and the court heard had left a “death bed” letter of wishes in 2015 stating she wanted the farm to remain in the family. A will left the farm in a trust with all four siblings as beneficiaries and its sale was “to be a last resort”.

The High Court was told a “deep rift” appeared between Mr Cutts and his siblings after their mother’s death.

Debts meant the farm had to be sold, with the trustees offering it to Mr Cutts and the proceeds split between the remaining beneficiaries.

Estate agents had valued it as being worth millions more.

But the trustees offered it to Mr Cutts, director of Earlcote Construction and Plant Hire, for the lower price, saying it would keep the farm in the family and enable debts owned by the estate of the Cutts to be paid.

Mr Cutts’ sister Victoria told the court her brother was being given an “irrational discount” for the price of the farm by the trustees.

The sisters sited the presents of fish as evidence of “favouritism” between Mr Cutts and his cousin.

Folds Farm at Fordingbridge (picture: Google)
Folds Farm at Fordingbridge (picture: Google)

Giving evidence in court, Paul Cutts said he was “no closer to Alister than any of the others”. He said the stuffed pike had been a present in exchange for a previous one from him to Alister of a chub.

In her written ruling, the judge rejected allegations of favouritism and said there was no evidence of bias towards Mr Cutts.

Master Clark said: “The suggestion that these dealings show a level of closeness between trustee Paul Cutts and Alister Cutts which would affect the (trustee’s) conduct as a director of the trustees is in my judgement unarguable.”

She said the gifts of stuffed fish did not demonstrate a level of closeness that would have “unduly” influenced the conduct of the trustee and she had seen no evidence of bias towards him. The judge ruled the sale could go ahead.

Alister Cutts featured in another court case last year after a teenager on work experience had his leg crushed under a flipped tractor while working on a farm in Fordingbridge.

A teenager on work experience whose leg was crushed under a flipped tractor used his own belt to fashion a tourniquet, a court heard. But he was left with life changing injuries.

Mr Cutts’ firm Earlcoate was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive and fined £50,000 at Southampton Crown Court last October.

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