Marquess sues estate lawyers for £700,000

AN ARISTOCRAT is suing lawyers for £700,000 after he was landed with a huge tax bill to prevent the break-up of one of his estates.

Alexander Gordon, the 7th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair, claims negligence by Edinburgh-based Turcan Connell led to him having to form a "rescue plan" to stop some of his wealth passing to relatives he did not want to benefit.

The Court of Session yesterday heard the "Aberdeen Gordons", who have held land in Aberdeenshire for more than 500 years, owned the Haddo and Tarves estates.

In 1984, the current marquess, also known as Lord Aberdeen, consulted with his then solicitors, not Turcan Connell, about the best way of passing the Tarves estate to his children without incurring tax.

A trust was set up but Lord Aberdeen had only one child at the time, Lord Haddo, and it was decided the best course was to include other child relatives, those of his sister, Lady Emma, and of his adopted cousin, Andrew Gordon.

By the 1990s, Lord Aberdeen had four children. He made it clear to his lawyer, the court heard, that Haddo was to go to his eldest son, and Tarves was to pass to one or more of his other three children.

"He had made it plain that it should only be if none of his immediate family survived him that any of his sister's children should receive the Tarves estate, and on no account should any of his adopted cousin's children receive it," the court heard.

Turcan Connell became his solicitors in 1997 and reviewed the trust, and Lord Aberdeen confirmed that his wishes remained the same.

There came a deadline under the rules of the trust when beneficiaries had to be nominated but, according to Lord Aberdeen, it was realised the date had passed and an urgent meeting was called in 2006.

"Robert Turcan explained he had made a mistake and apologised for it ... each of the (nine) children had or shortly would have an interest in an equal share in the assets of the Tarves Estate Trust," the pleadings in the damages action said.

"This would result in the break-up of a substantial part of the ancestral landholding associated with the Gordon family for hundreds of years."

A "salvage operation" was formed under which the Tarves estate was advanced to Lord Haddo. But the move also triggered liability for capital gains tax. The full extent had yet to be assessed, the court was told, but Lord Aberdeen said an interim payment of 500,000 had been made.

Lord Haddo took a bank loan to fund the payment, and Lord Aberdeen guaranteed the loan. As well as interest, there would be substantial professional fees to pay.

In her judgment, Lady Smith said: "(The marquess) offers to prove that no ordinarily competent solicitor would have failed to advise him timeously of the need for the trustees to exercise their discretion in favour of one or more of his children if the break-up of the Tarves estate was to be avoided.

"(Turcan Connell] deny that, in the circumstances of the case, they had a duty to tender the advice that he avers they were under a duty to give."

Lady Smith said the test for dismissing the case at this stage was whether the marquess's claim would necessarily fail. He insisted the mistake by Turcan Connell amounted to negligence.

"I recognise his case is not without difficulties (but) I cannot be satisfied that the action will necessarily fail," she said.

No date was fixed for another hearing.

PROFILE

THE Most Hon Alexander George Gordon, 53, was educated at Harrow and pursued a career as a property developer in London before becoming the 7th Marquess of Aberdeen and Temair six years ago.

He married Joanna Clodagh Houldsworth in 1981 and the couple have four children, George, Earl of Haddo, 25, Lord Sam, 23, Lady Anna, 20 and Lord Charles, 18.

He made headlines in 2004 with plans for tank-driving courses at the family's Haddo Estate at Methlick.

However, the current marquess would have to come up with something much more outlandish to rival the "colourful" tag given to his father, Alastair Ninian John Gordon, who died, aged 82, in 2002.

An artist and art critic, he listed his recreations as "wine, women and song", and not long before his death, he wrote a magazine article, The Good Whore Guide, in which he charted his adventures as a "sex-starved subaltern" during and after the Second World War.