Clifford Chance faces £1m claim over millionaire's will

CLIFFORD Chance is being sued for about £1 million over allegations that it acted negligently by failing to implement the final wishes of the late property millionaire Eric Hopton.

The writ also names David Bowyer, former head of Clifford Chance's private client division and currently with City firm Withers.

The case is expected to attract a fanfare of publicity because potential witnesses include George Staple, head of the Serious Fraud Office, and Rona, Lady Delves Broughton.

Staple, a former Clifford Chance partner, was an executor of Hopton's will and one of his principal legal advisers. Lady Broughton is a member of the Lloyd's of London council and was a confidante of Hopton.

The case against Clifford Chance and Bowyer is being brought by Hopton's great-nephew Dominic Trusted.

Trusted is being represented by David Oliver QC and Margaret McCabe. His solicitor is Paul Whitaker, of Rooks Rider.

Clifford Chance is represented by David Briggs QC and Lovell White Durrant.

Bowyer declined to comment beyond saying that the action would be defended. A spokesman for Clifford Chance said the claim would be “vigorously contested”.

Trusted claims he is entitled to more money than he received under the terms of a will that was in the process of being drawn up by Clifford Chance for Hopton during 1990.

But the will was never signed by Hopton who died of a heart attack in early 1991. Hopton had signed an earlier will in 1984 and this subsequently became the subject of a legal wrangle involving family members.

In December 1993, Lady Broughton started a separate action against Clifford Chance over the incomplete will claiming £500,000. But recently, she dropped the case and agreed to pay £175,000 towards Clifford Chance's costs.

It is alleged in the Trusted action that the second incomplete will reflected Eric Hopton's desire to spread the proceeds of his £50 million estate more widely.

Two of the main beneficiaries of the first will were Christopher and Nicholas Hopton, sons of Eric Hopton's brother John. Eric Hopton's principal asset was the Belgravia Property Company, sold for £48.5 million to entrepreneur Elliot Bernerd.