Wednesday 19 December 2018

Sisters lose appeal over hairstylist's will leaving estate to her best friend

Appeal: Majella Rippington. Photo: Courtpix
Appeal: Majella Rippington. Photo: Courtpix

Tim Healy

An appeal over a challenge to a woman's will, which was drawn up a week before she died and left her estate to her best friend, has been dismissed.

Hairstylist Celine Murphy (50), who died of cancer on March 15, 2011, left her €283,000 estate - primarily her apartment in Brownsbarn Court, Clondalkin, Dublin - to her best friend Mary Butler, from Straffan in Co Kildare.

The will was drawn up when she arrived at Ms Butler's home on March 8, the day before Ms Murphy was admitted to St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, where she died a week later.

While Ms Butler was not in her home that evening, her daughter Johanna was there, along with Latin Tridentine Bishop Michael Cox. He became the executor and Johanna was asked to be a witness.

Subsequently, Ms Murphy's sisters, Majella Rippington and Edel Banahan, along with Ms Rippington's husband, Shaun Rippington, asked the High Court to declare the will invalid. Ms Murphy was unmarried and had no children.

Mary Butler and Bishop Cox counter-claimed, seeking to have the will declared valid.

Ms Rippington, who represented herself, her sister and her husband, asserted invalidity on grounds of alleged duress and undue influence on her late sister.

In July 2015, Mr Justice Séamus Noonan declared the will to be valid and also ordered that the costs of the case should not be borne by the estate but should be paid by the Rippington/Banahan side.

The judge said he did this because of the outrageous and unsubstantiated allegations made by Majella Rippington.

He described Ms Rippington as "domineering, manipulative and an utterly unreliable witness, who was prepared to say anything she felt might serve her purpose".

He was satisfied that Ms Butler was a close and valued friend of Ms Murphy. There was nothing irrational about the contents of her will and Ms Murphy's treating doctor said that she was of sound mind.

Not "a single shred of evidence" had been produced by the Rippington side to support "of any of these extremely serious and scandalous allegations", he said.

Ms Rippington had, in her evidence to the court, engaged "in what can only be described as an attempt to assassinate the character of Ms Butler", the judge said.

The Rippington/Banahan side appealed and yesterday a three-judge court dismissed their appeal.

However, Ms Justice Máire Whelan, on behalf of the appeal court, set aside the High Court costs order and said the appellants should pay the Butler/Cox costs.

Ms Justice Whelan rejected Ms Rippington's claims of bias by the High Court judge and that he had erred in his findings. She also rejected a claim that the High Court failed to take into account and give consideration to the facts and evidence which the appellants had presented.

Merely because a litigant disagrees with a judge's determination, based on evidence, can never in and of itself constitute a basis for asserting bias, Ms Justice Whelan said.

She rejected the Rippington claim that Ms Murphy never actually went to the Butler home.

The judge was satisfied that there was cogent evidence before the trial judge which entitled him to come to the conclusions that he did, including his evaluation of the respective witness.

Irish Independent

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