DAUGHTERS of the late Lord Lambton have told a top judge they are “sad and bitterly heartbroken” that a family dispute over their father’s multimillion-pound estate has ended up in the courts.
Lord Lambton created a scandal in his lifetime when he resigned as a Conservative minister after becoming involved with prostitutes.
When he died in 2006 he had been living in Italy for about 30 years after leaving Britain in the wake of the sex revelations which ruined his political career.
His fortune went to his son and heir – Edward Lambton, the seventh Earl of Durham.
Under British rules of primogeniture the male heir inherits not only the title but also the entire estate.
But it was argued today that, under Italian law, all six of Lord Lambton’s children are entitled to one-ninth each of the “heritable property” of their late father.
Lord Durham served a High Court writ in May this year on three of his five sisters to prevent them making claims on his inheritance in Italy which could each be worth millions of pounds.
Lord Durham’s move upset his eldest sister, Lady Lucinda Lambton, the author and former television presenter, and her two younger sisters, Lady Beatrix Neville and Lady Anne Lambton, an actress.
Today the sisters went before the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Terence Etherton, sitting in London, and asked him to stay the proceedings launched by their brother in England as an abuse of process.
They argue that it is for the Italian courts to decide what they should receive from their father’s £12 million-plus estate.
Alexander Layton QC, appearing for the sisters, told the Chancellor: “The applicants are sad and bitterly heartbroken that this family dispute should have ended in the courts at all.”
As Lady Lucinda and Lady Anne sat listening behind him, Mr Layton described how the late Lord Lambton had lived in Italy since the late 1970s and made a statutory declaration in September 2003 that Italy was his domicile of choice.
He told the Chancellor that the sisters wanted their brother’s English legal action stopped so the Italian courts can make a ruling as soon as possible.
Mr Layton accused Lord Durham - known to friends as Ned - of wrongly “seeking to interfere with a foreign court’s process” and applying for declarations in London in an attempt to oust the operation of the Italian succession laws.
English law took a different approach to calculating the share of property to which each child of the deceased was entitled, he said.
Mr Layton added: “It is the Italian proceedings on foot that will ultimately decide the sisters’ claim for a one-ninth share each of Lord Lambton’s heritable property.”
But Lord Durham’s legal team is arguing in a two-day hearing that all the family members involved in the dispute are “habitually resident” in England, and all the issues which have arisen are capable of “fair and speedy adjudication” in the English courts.
They contend that the court in Siena, Italy, which the sisters favour, is “plainly unsuitable” and they cannot show that Italy is clearly a more appropriate forum.
The court heard that, during his lifetime, Lord Lambton owned valuable estates in England and Italy as well as fine collections of paintings, furniture, books and wine.
Then known as Tony Lambton, he was secretly photographed by the News of the World in bed with a prostitute in 1973 when he was a defence minister in Edward Heath’s government. Cannabis was also found at his London home.