Culliford & anr v Thorpe [2020] WTLR 1205

WTLR Issue: Winter 2020 #181






The deceased purchased a property in Weston-super-Mare (the Weston property) in his sole name in 2002 with the aid of a mortgage loan. He met the defendant in early 2010 and by the end of the year the defendant had moved into the Weston property with the deceased and it became his main residence. The defendant undertook repair and decoration jobs around the property, including repairing the boiler and decorating the main bedroom, and undertook work for others in return for work on the property by them. The general outgoings for the property and for the lifestyle of the deceased and the defendant were funded largely by the deceased.

In April 2012, the defendant’s father died and he inherited some money and became entitled to an interest in a property in Devon (the Devon property). In May 2012, the deceased and the defendant agreed that they would share their assets and orally formed a plan to refurbish the Weston property and the Devon property, using funds that the defendant had inherited from his father. Although the existence of the agreement was challenged by the claimants, the judge held that there was an agreement and that it created a new state of affairs on which they would base their lives together and which affected their property rights. They did not discuss or even consider how they would hold the properties: whether as joint tenants or as tenants in common.

The deceased and the defendant planned the works together. The defendant carried out major refurbishment works on the Weston property between June 2012 and Spring 2014, including works to the bedrooms and the enlargement of the kitchen and of the lounge. The only work from the original plan not done was work on the ensuite bathroom. The judge accepted expert evidence that the value added by the works to the Weston property was around £30,000. The defendant also carried out some works at the Devon property but not as extensive as those done at the Weston property. The judge accepted the defendant’s evidence that he spent around £10,000 on building materials and fittings. He also accepted that the defendant would not have done the work had the agreement not been made between him and the deceased.

Against that, the defendant benefited from largely free accommodation and keep at the Weston property. The deceased and the defendant suffered breakdowns in their relationship for short periods, but they were together shortly before the deceased’s death.

The deceased had increasingly used recreational drugs, including heroin, and died as a result of a combination of the toxicity of drugs taken and pre-existing health problems. The deceased died intestate in March 2016. A grant of letters of administration ad colligenda bona was made to the claimants in December 2016. After the death of the deceased, the defendant continued to live at the Weston property and the claimants gave written notice terminating his licence to occupy it. They sought an order for possession, but the defendant counterclaimed, claiming that he had a proprietary interest in the property.


  1. (1) that the agreement between the defendant and the deceased to share their respective properties, followed by the detrimental reliance of the defendant, gave rise to a common intention constructive trust of the Weston property in the defendant’s favour; and
  2. (2) that (although it was not necessary to reach a conclusion on this) the deceased made a promise to share his property with the defendant, intending it to be relied upon and the defendant relied on the promise by carrying out the building works at the Weston property. It would have been unconscionable for the deceased to renege on the promise.

In the case of a common intention constructive trust, there was no need for the court to embark on an arithmetical exercise of weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of the position in which a promisee found himself; it was enough to show that he relied to his detriment on the agreement between the parties, so that it would have been unconscionable for the legal owner to renege on the agreement. The agreement between the deceased and the defendant was to share the properties equally.

The judge stated that if he were to decide the case under the principles of proprietary estoppel, on the facts of the case the promise ought in principle to be given effect to and the defendant would have been entitled to a half share in the property.

As to the remedy, there was no reason why the defendant should not move out of the Weston property so it could be sold. After the discharge of any outstanding mortgage loan, the net proceeds of sale were to be divided between the defendant and the deceased’s estate, but deducting from the defendant’s share one half of the occupation rent from the date of death to the date on which he gave up possession.

Journal articles referred to

McFarlane and Sales, ‘Promises, detriment, and liability: lessons from proprietary estoppel’ (2015) LQR 610

Gardner, ‘The remedial discretion in proprietary estoppel – again’ [2006] LQR 492

Robertson, ‘The reliance basis of proprietary estoppel remedies’ [2008] Conv 295

JUDGMENT HHJ PAUL MATTHEWS: Introduction [1] This is my judgment on a claim and counterclaim in relation to a residential property known as 9 Clover Road, Wick St Lawrence, Weston-super-Mare (‘the Weston property’ or simply ‘the property’). The claim is brought, as a simple claim for possession, by the personal representatives of Rodney Culliford (who …
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Counsel Details

Mr Adam Boyle (St John’s Chambers, 101 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS1 6PU, tel 0117 923 4740, email, instructed by Porter Dodson (Telford House, The Park, Yeovil, Somerset, BA20 1DY, tel 01935 424581, email for the claimants.

Joss Knight (St John’s Chambers, 101 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS1 6PU, tel 0117 923 4740, email, instructed by Burnetts (Victoria House, Wavell Drive, Rosehill, Carlisle, CA1 2ST, tel 01228 552222, email for the defendant.

Legislation Referenced

  • Statute of Frauds 1677