This article was published in the CONSTRUCTION NEWS on March 19th 1987 under the heading
A Belfast court last week authorised the sale of a mental patient's remaining 14 properties in the city for £150,000, to John Laing Developments.
Laing needed the land for its £60 million Castlecourt shopping-centre development in city. The properties are in the block on which the developer will build a multi-storey car park for the scheme.
Freddie Andrews is a mentally retarded man whose father left him considerable property assets in 1972. Although doctors have testified that Mr Andrews was incapable of managing his affairs since 1947, he was not made a ward of court until 1979.
His family, led by one of his sisters Eileen Wright, alleges he was swindled out of much of his inheritance by unscrupulous family friends, solicitors and estate agents.
After 1979 the official solicitor looked after his interests. Until 1982 the court appointed an independent solicitor to fulfill this role, but thereafter the official solicitor was employed by the court service.
A member of the family confirmed last week that the sale approved by the court - 62-65 Smithfield, 66-69 Smithfield and 1-11 Francis Street (odd numbers) - disposed of the last of Mr Andrew's properties. "That is the whole lot gone."
Even this final transaction had a measure of controversy. The official solicitor originally recommended selling the properties for £110,000.
Mr Justice McDermott, who presided over the Court of Care and Protection for the case, was not satisfied, however, that this represented a fair value for the properties and instructed the district valuer to make a second appraisal. The valuer added £40,000 to the original figure.
Mr Andrew's family, however, believe that even the revised sum sold their brother short. Back in 1983, the Belfast firm of chartered accountants P & B Gregory, valued the property at £200,000.
It is possible that Laing's proposed development may have reduced the value. The Department of the Environment in Northern Ireland is keen for the Castlecourt project to go ahead - it is providing an urban development grant of up to £10 million to assist the scheme and is spending a further £5 million on associated infrastructure works.
A spokesman for the DoE told CONSTRUCTION NEWS recently that the department was ready to buy any land that threatened to delay or halt the scheme under a compulsory purchase order. With a potential vesting order - the Northern Ireland equivalent of a CPO - hanging over the property, its worth would certainly have been diminished.
Meanwhile, Mrs Wright is still fighting for compensation for her brother, over earlier sales of other property his father left him.
She alleges a now-dead friend of her father's, Charles Gilpin, who was a wealthy Belfast businessman and a member of the Plymouth Brethren religious sect, conspired with others to defraud her brother of his assets.
The Royal Ulster Constabulary's fraud squad investigated the case from the late 1970s, but took no further action. The detective constable conducting the enquiries, Mervyn Patterson, was found shot dead in ambiguous circumstances on the shore of Belfast Lough.
The detective had threatened to commit suicide as a protest against what he alleged was his superiors' inaction over the affair. But when his body was discovered, his hands and feet were loosely tied, and no gun was found near his corpse.
Just before Christmas, however, both the fraud squad and the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland agreed to reopen their files on the case.
Since then the Law Society has acted against one of the solicitors involved, Herbert Wright, who was working for the firm of Tughan & Company at the time of the disputed property deals and was instrumental in concluding them, was struck off for a period of three years from January 22.