Villa Parisio mediation fails, Strickland heirs go back to court

The disputed property includes personal and legal files, and executorship files concerning Mabel Strickland’s will, estate, and the setting up of the Strickland Foundation (SF) which happened at the same time as her revised will in 1979.

Villa Parisio in Lija – Mabel Strickland’s nephew Robert was bequeathed lifetime rights of use and habitation with certain conditions, but it is also the seat for the Strickland Foundation, owners of The Times
Villa Parisio in Lija – Mabel Strickland’s nephew Robert was bequeathed lifetime rights of use and habitation with certain conditions, but it is also the seat for the Strickland Foundation, owners of The Times
Mabel Strickland, owner and editor of The Times, and MP for the Progressive Constitutional Party
Mabel Strickland, owner and editor of The Times, and MP for the Progressive Constitutional Party

A court case between the owners of Allied Publications, the Strickland Foundation, and Robert Hornyold-Strickland, the heir of Mabel Strickland, will continue after the two sides failed to reach a mediated settlement over the way Strickland’s will was interpreted by executors Prof. J.M. Ganado and the late Guido de Marco.

Hornyold-Strickland filed the dispute in January 2010 to reclaim the full use and habitation of his aunt’s former family home – Villa Parisio in Lija, currently used by the Strickland Foundation – as well as farmland, the personal contents in her home, Strickland family heirlooms and the family archive.

Hornyold-Strickland contends that the disputed property has been withheld from him and erroneously passed to the Strickland Foundation, and that as sole heir to the former Times owner and editor, the property should have been passed to him.

“The executors and the Strickland Foundation contend that Mabel Strickland’s heir has no legal right to use any other rooms in the villa, including the other bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting room, dining room, hall, kitchen – regardless of whether the Strickland family, guests and staff all used these rooms at the Villa during her lifetime,” Hornyold-Strickland told MaltaToday, having accused her executors of a conflict of interest and a breach of their fiduciary duties.

The disputed property includes personal and legal files, and executorship files concerning Mabel Strickland’s will, estate, and the setting up of the Strickland Foundation (SF) which happened at the same time as her revised will in 1979.

At present, the estate is divided between the Strickland Foundation and sole heir Robert Hornyold-Strickland, with the Foundation receiving the major bequest, including ownership of Villa Parisio and a majority shareholding in Allied Newspapers, publisher of The Times of Malta and The Sunday Times of Malta.

Hornyold-Strickland says he was chosen as an heir in 1975, the first time she had written a will since 1940 after her father died. He returned to live in Malta in 1977, after Strickland – fearing a nationalisation threat by the Mintoff government – requested she adopts him to ensure the survival of the Strickland heritage.

The adoption was approved by a court expert but blocked by a timely change in laws by the Labour government, backdated retrospectively to January 1977, to prevent the adoption.

Hornyold-Strickland, who has copies of all of his aunt’s earlier wills, says his aunt gave him lifetime rights over Villa Parisio’s use and habitation.

In addition to owning Villa Parisio, the Strickland Foundation also controls the majority shareholding in Allied Newspapers. Today Nationalist MP Mario de Marco and lawyer Max Ganado, both sons of the original executors, hold positions on the SF council.

Hornyold-Strickland says he has never been invited to take a place on the SF council which, he says, his aunt set up “for herself and her heirs in perpetuity”.

In May 2013, midway through the court case, Judge Silvio Meli requested both sides to take this dispute to mediation under the guidance of Judge J.D. Camilleri.

“When a compromise solution on all aspects of contention in the court case proved impossible to resolve collectively, it was agreed to narrow down the mediation to just the single issue of Mr Strickland’s lifetime rights of use and habitation at Villa Parisio,” Hornyold-Strickland said.

“Having suffered terrible harassment in our own home up to this point by the Foundation, the issue of privacy was, and is so important to me and my family, that we were prepared to temporarily set aside the other major issues in this ongoing law suit – simply to find a solution that would allow my family to live in security and privacy in our own home and to be able to get on with our lives.”

Hornyold-Strickland added that the Strickland Foundation had lost an opportunity to settle on a compromise to have the heirs live in the family home with total privacy.

“Each day for the last four years, my wife has woken up not knowing who would invade our home, as the Strickland Foundation believe that Mabel placed both parties into her family home together – which is a ridiculous interpretation of her will,” Hornyold-Strickland said.

“In case anyone was to not believe us, my wife and I have now documented our own audio and video clips of dozens of entries, at all hours of the day and night, by members of the Foundation and their colleagues. This harassment has taken a terrible toll on my wife’s emotions since tomorrow, and every day until this court case is settled, she will continue to wake up not knowing who from the Strickland Foundation will enter our home, completely unannounced. We also suffered invasive 24/7 CCTV inside as well as outside our home; nowhere else in the world would this kind of intimidation be tolerated.”

Hornyold-Strickland said that his aunt foresaw the need for the Stricklands to transfer their seat of office to any other place as they might ‘think fit’, so that her heir could live in the villa as she intended when he was able to return to Malta. At the time of her death Hornyold-Strickland was living in the UK.

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