A Merewether home, a Thai jail stretch, and the battle of the will
Home: Klong Prem jail in Bangkok, Thailand where David Hughes spent more than a decade after he was caught trying to leave Thailand with heroin. Inset: The Merewether home his late mother left to his daughter. He received $25.IT isn’t clear why BerylHughes, of Merewether, left her sonDavidexactly $25 in herwill when she died in August, 2015.
It had something to do with the 13years she travelled to Thailand to see him in Bangkok’s Klong Premjail, after he was charged with heroin offences in 1985.
But $25, rather than nothing or $100 or $1000, is not explained in a NSW Supreme Court decision on Thursday, after David Hughes challenged his only daughter Erin Sharp for up to half his mother’s estate of more than $650,000.
It was a case where father and daughter engaged “somewhat relentlessly and, it would seem, remorselessly, in the litigation”, Justice Philip Hallen said.
And it was “regrettable” that “despite every effort being given to the parties to resolve the proceedings”the two could not settle their differences, so the court did, with nearly $145,000 in legal costs.
“There is little doubt that emotion has played a real part in the contest before the court,” Justice Hallen said.
Beryl was 87 when she died.
She left small sums to several people, $25 to her only surviving son and the majority of the estate, comprising the Merewether home Beryl and husband John bought in 1971 for $14,600, to her granddaughter Erin, who lived with them from when she was very young.
Erin Sharp and her husband “were my only familymembers who took care of me during my old age and it is for this reason that I would like to leave my granddaughter with my home and its contents,” Beryl said in her will.
The court heard Beryl and John had discussed leaving the property to Erin because “in our eyes you are our daughter and it was your home”.
David Hughes was 25 when he travelled to Thailand in 1984. He was arrested at Bangkok Airport in early 1985 as he was about to board a plane for , and charged with possessing heroin.
“He appears to have been suffering from some form of mental instabilitybecause, following his arrest, the Thai authorities placed him in hospital, rather than imprisoning himimmediatelyin a Thai prison,” Justice Hallen said.
Hughes pleaded guilty at a trial in 1989 and was sentenced to 25 years’ jail. His mother “took control of a campaign” to get him out based on his mental instability.
In 1991he was transferred to Klong Prem Central Prison. Repeated requests for pardons and amnesties were rejected. The court heard John and Beryl took out a mortgage on their home for the frequent trips to Thailand, and John’s retirement payout as a Newcastle dockworker went towards supporting his son.
In an affidavit in October, 2016 David Hughes acknowledged that his parents “mortgaged their home to fund my legal case over there”.
In1998 hewas granted a King’s pardon and returned to , where he lived with his parents for 10 months.
While Erin visited her father in the jail a number of times, she told the court he had “never been a significant part of my life physically or emotionally”.
Beryl Hughes made Erin executrix of her estate. David Hughes was notified of the $25 bequest but lodged a claim for up to 50 per cent of his mother’s estate.
By the time of her death he was living near Coffs Harbour with a wife and child, training to be a mental health worker.
NSW Supreme Court judgment in Hughes v Sharp
His daughter Erin had a University of Newcastle degree and was working as a music and arts teacher at a Griffith school.
Their battle in court was over whether David Hughes had already received his inheritance in the money his parents spent while in jail.
The court heard evidence from a friend who said he once wrote to his mother that“I appreciate all that you and Pop have done for me. Please do not leave me anything when you die as I have gotten more than my fair share from you while I was in prison”.
While David Hughes did not dispute writing letters to his parents with those sentiments, Justice Hallen was told they were written while he was under duress in a Thai jail facing a very long sentence.
The judge concluded that “there was really no dispute that the deceased and her husband did everything in their power, including spending savings, and at least part of his retirement benefit, to achieve either the plaintiff’s removal from the circumstances in which he found himself, to pay for legal expenses that he would have incurred, and to ensure that his life in prison was made more comfortable”.
While David Hughes remained in regular contact with his parents for many years after his return to , he argued with his mother while collecting his father’s tools after his death in 2010. After Beryl suffered a cerebral haemorrhage in 2015 Erin contacted her father, but he was unable to visit for nine days.
Beryl was in a coma by the time he arrived and died a short time later.
Justice Hallen granted David Hughes 15 per centof the remainder of his mother’s estate after legal costs were met, or $70,000. His daughter’s share is expected to be $400,000.
Justice Hallen took into account David Hughes’ “straitened circumstances”, when compared with his daughter’s “bright future”. He noted, but rejected, a “somewhat unhelpful” argument from Erin Sharp’s barristerthat her fatherhad “already received what he should have got”.