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Wednesday 28 September 2016

'Poisonous feud' poses a tricky conundrum at Sherlock Holmes Museum

Brian Farmer

Published 13/10/2015 | 13:49

Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson in 'Sherlock'
Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr John Watson in 'Sherlock'

A judge has named a pensioner - whose family ran the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street, London - who was at the centre of a dispute about her care and finances at a hearing in a specialist court where issues relating to sick and vulnerable people are analysed.

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Mr Justice Peter Jackson said he had overseen a dispute in the Court of Protection which was the latest stage of a "poisonous feud" between the children of 88-year-old Grace Aidiniantz.

And he has identified everyone involved in a judgment which was published today after a private hearing in London in September - and he told journalists that they could report the contents of his ruling.

Normally people at the centre of Court of Protection litigation are not identified. But Mr Justice Jackson said the publication of an anonymised ruling in the case involving Mrs Aidiniantz - who he described as being in "poor health" - would be "futile".

The judge said there had already been litigation relating to museum takings, share dealings and property. He said "so much information" was "already in the public domain" - he said a "media alert", which quoted one of Mrs Aidiniantz's sons, had been issued by a public relations company notifying journalists when the Court of Protection hearing would take place.

He said the litigation was not "just a private family dispute" because the parties had "repeatedly chosen" to "air their differences in the courts". He said a "public judgment" would not make matters any worse for Mrs Aidiniantz than they already were - and would not be a "significant further intrusion" into her privacy.

Mr Justice Jackson said Mrs Aidiniantz had four children - John Aidiniantz, who lived in London, Linda Riley, who lived in London and owned a property in Florida, Stephen Riley and Jennifer Decoteau, who also lived in London. He also named Mrs Aidiniantz's half-sister Ruth Mackertich.

"These proceedings in the Court of Protection are the latest setting for the poisonous feud between the children of Mrs Grace Aidiniantz," said the judge in his ruling.

"On this occasion, they dispute where their mother should live, who should care for her, who should see her, and whether her finances should be investigated."

He added: "Mrs Grace Aidiniantz is described by all who know her as a woman of character who brought up her children as a single parent.

"In about 1989, John conceived the idea of creating the Sherlock Holmes Museum in Baker Street and the premises were purchased with money provided by his mother. From that point until 2012, the business was run as something of a family affair, with each member contributing to some extent.

"In 2012, relationships broke down. Since then, a number of legal actions and counter-actions have been launched by John, Linda, Jennifer, Ruth and Mrs Aidiniantz herself."

He said litigation had involved disputes over takings from the museum, share dealings and the occupancy of property. He said an account of the "business and litigation history" could be found in rulings published by other judges.

The judge said "finally", in December 2014, John Aidiniantz had launched Court of Protection proceedings.

"A survey of this lamentable litigation history shows that whenever one side enjoys any success, the other immediately takes steps to blunt the advantage," said Mr Justice Jackson.

"The issues with which this court is now concerned are just a part of the picture."

Mr Justice Jackson said relations between the siblings had worsened and John Aidiniantz had complained that he and his family were being prevented from seeing his mother. Linda Riley, Stephen Riley and Jennifer Decoteau said Mrs Aidiniantz did not wish to see him "because of his business conduct".

He said Linda Riley had said John Aidiniantz had "embezzled their mother's money and defaulted on his obligation to maintain her and added: "She has now not got a penny to her name when she was worth £20 million."

Linda Riley had said that John Aidiniantz could try to do "something dreadful" to Mrs Aidiniantz and added: "He could withdraw medication ... He seems to think he has the power of euthanasia."

John Aidiniantz had said of his siblings' "financial allegations" against him: "The wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the most oil ... If I gave them £1 million each tomorrow I will be as good as Mother Teresa in their eyes, but that is not likely to happen."

Mr Justice Jackson said Mrs Aidiniantz, who was in a nursing home, lacked the mental capacity to make decisions about issues in the dispute. He said he therefore had to make decisions about what was in her best interests.

And he said, "uniquely", he had concluded that he "should attach no weight at all" to Mrs Aidiniantz's children's views about her welfare.

"These children have, in my view, forfeited the right to have their views taken seriously on the question of what is in their mother's best interests," said the judge.

"They have no insight into her obvious longing for peace. The evidence of John and Linda showed only bitterness and contempt for each other. Neither side sees how important the other is to their mother. None of them reflects on their own behaviour. Instead, every action is dictated by the wish to get the better of the other."

He added: "I have some sympathy for Mrs Aidiniantz's sister Ruth, but she is in the same camp as Linda, Stephen and Jennifer and has not been able to moderate their behaviour."

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