Thursday 29 September 2016

Woman whose will is contested by sisters had document prepared: 'All we had to do was sign and witness it' - Bishop tells court

Tim Healy

Published 23/07/2015 | 17:20

Majella Rippington leaving the High Court after the hearing.
PIC: COURTPIX
Majella Rippington leaving the High Court after the hearing. PIC: COURTPIX
Majella Rippington, with her husband, Shaun Rippington, leaving the High Court after the hearing. PIC: COURTPIX

Latin Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox has told the High Court he did not in any way influence a woman whose will is at the centre of a legal dispute.

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He said Celine Murphy (50) simply produced the handwritten will from an envelope and asked him to witness it and also entrusted it to him as executor. 

He was giving evidence on the third day of a hearing in which Ms Murphy's sisters Majella Rippington and Edel Banahan, along with her brother-in-law Shaun Rippington, seek to have the will declared invalid on grounds of alleged duress and undue influence.

Bishop Cox (70) and sole beneficiary Mary Butler, a longtime friend of Ms Murphy, dispute she was not of sound mind and have counter-claimed seeking to have the will declared valid.

Ms Murphy, a hair sylist from Old Naas Road, Dublin, died from cancer on March 15, 2011.  Her estate has a disputed value of between €283,000 and half million.

The court was told Thursday (July 23), she arrived at Mrs Butler's Sallins, Co Kildare, home on March 8, the day before she was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital where she died.

Mrs Butler was not at home but her daughter Johanna, who around the same time had been diagnosed with the same cancer Ms Murphy had been suffering from, was there along with Bishop Cox who is a long time family friend of the Butlers.

Bishop Cox told the court the three of them were sitting around the kitchen table when Ms Murphy produced the hand written will from an envelope and asked them to witness it.  

They signed it and Ms Murphy entrusted it to him, asking he not say anything about it for three weeks should anything happen to her.

Asked by his counsel Cormac O'Dualachain about claims he may have influenced Ms Murphy as to how she made the will, he said "No, the document was already prepared, all we had to do was sign and witness it".

Earlier, he said he first met Ms Murphy, through Mrs Butler, around 2000. 

He got to know her well and they often had discussions about the work he was doing in his church. She "held her own views, she was a very nice person, very intelligent and strong willed".

He often visited the Butlers and had gone from his home in Shinrone, Co Offaly, on March 8, for a break and was there when Ms Murphy arrived.

Johanna Butler told the court Ms Murphy was a long time family friend and when she (Johanna) was diagnosed with a similar cancer, the two women shared their experiences. 

However, she was shocked when Ms Murphy produced a document from an envelope saying "this is my last will and testament" because they both had always been so positive about their illness.

"I said why are you doing that, you are going to be fine and she said I could be run over by a bus tomorrow".

She said she never read it before witnessing and agreed not to say anything to anyone about it.  While Ms Murphy had bandages on her fingers, from gangrene which was a complication from her cancer, Ms Butler said she did see Ms Murphy struggling to sign the will herself.

Mary Butler told the court she first met Ms Murphy in 1989  when she got her hair done in the David Marshall hair salon where Ms Murphy had worked for 34 years.

They became good friends, socialising, playing golf, going racing, with Ms Murphy regularly visiting the Butler home, she said.  Ms Murphy named Mrs Butler as her next of kin on admission to hospital before she died.

Under cross-examination by Majella Rippington, who is presenting the case, she disagreed she had lied about their relationship.  

Mrs Rippington claims she was an advisor to her late sister, not a social friend.

Una McGurk, who said she was a weekly hair client of Ms Murphy and also socialised with her, told the court on the evening before she died, there was an incident in the hospital in which she and a number of other people knelt around Celine's bed praying. 

She said Majella Rippington, who was not named as next of kin, arrived with a hospital security man who "grabbed me by the shoulder and escorted me out of the room and told me under no circumstances was I ever to come back again".

Mrs Rippington was shouting at the top of her voice abusing her and saying she would sue her, have her prosecuted and had notified the gardai.

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