Luxury hoteliers spend £60,000 on family court row... over a suitcase

·3 min read
Judith Andersson and Diane Ward - Champion News Service Ltd
Judith Andersson and Diane Ward - Champion News Service Ltd

The owners of a luxury hotel where Sir Winston Churchill and Lawrence of Arabia once stayed as guests are locked in a court battle over a suitcase of family photos with “no monetary value”.

Judith Andersson and Diane Ward, her sister-in-law, are part-owners of the five-star American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, founded in 1902, which has played host to countless celebrities over the years.

The once close-knit family has been torn apart by a series of bitter disagreements between Ms Andersson, 76, and her late brothers Tim and John Ward over the property of their mother Frieda, who died aged 77 in Richmond, west London, in 1993.

Now Ms Andersson and Mrs Ward, Tim’s widow, are locked in a costly battle at Central London County Court over a purple suitcase containing Frieda’s family pictures and other memorabilia.

The suitcase of cherished photo albums and papers – described as an “archive” by Ms Andersson – were taken by Tim Ward on their mum’s death and he kept them until he died in 2020.

The suitcase of family photos - Champion News Service Ltd
The suitcase of family photos - Champion News Service Ltd

However, Ms Andersson is now suing Ms Ward for the suitcase – which sat on the court floor throughout a two-day hearing last week – claiming that his family’s refusal to let her have it was part of her brother’s “twisted retribution” after an inheritance row, which had centred around allegations that she owed her mum money before she died.

In a case that has already racked up £60,000 in legal costs, Ms Andersson claimed that the suitcase should be handed over to her since both her brothers are dead. Ms Ward, 77, has denied any agreement between the siblings to share the contents of the case.

The court heard that the disputed photos and papers have “no monetary value” and in a previous hearing before another judge, the row was described as “completely mad” by Judge Nigel Gerald.

Frieda was born in Jerusalem, where her grandparents Horatio Gates Spafford and Anna Spafford formed the American Colony in the late 19th century, centred around a former palace which became the American Colony Hotel.

The “colony” was of devout American and Swedish Christians, who were known for their charity work with local people, irrespective of their religion in the divided Middle East.

American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem
American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem

The hotel became a haven for Western travellers and is seen these days as an “oasis of neutrality” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

At the end of the two-day hearing, Judge Mark Raeside said it was “improbable and implausible” that Ms Andersson would have agreed that Ward would be allowed to have it all for himself.

He made a declaration that the photos and papers had been held on trust by Ward for the benefit of all three siblings and that there was an agreement that the archive would not be split up.

However, he adjourned the question of what specifically will now happen with the suitcase until another hearing later this month.

The case has cost an estimated £60,000 in lawyers’ bills, but the question of who pays will also be decided by the judge later.

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