A farmer’s daughter who claimed sexism resulted in her brothers being favoured in her father's will has won a £650,000 payout after she won a battle with her family to benefit from work she had done on the land.
Julie Mate and her sisters were left just £12,000 each after their father, Donald Mate, died in 1992. He left his share of the farm to her brothers, Andrew and Robert, and his wife Shirley, who later handed her portion to her sons.
Julie, 62, claimed she had sacrificed school and her social life as a child to work alongside her brothers on the family’s 140-acre West Yorkshire dairy farm, and that she and her sisters were the victims of old-fashioned sexist traditions.
She said that she had wanted to return to the farm to work full-time as an adult, but her brothers had told her “you’re not coming back” after she studied animal science at university.
She has now won a £652,000 payout from her brothers' fortune after a judge found it was her work which had led to the value of part of the land increasing from £300,000 to £9 million.
Judge Andrew Sutcliffe KC said the brothers had been "unjustly enriched" by Julie's years of work in getting the land removed from the Green Belt so it could be sold to developers to build a 250-house estate, and that it was right she should share in the windfall.
Looked into ways of making money
A few years after her father died, Julie started to look into ways of making money from the land, she claimed.
She said that she had been encouraged by her mother to look into the potential for redevelopment of 40 acres of farmland, known as Netherton Moor.
She deployed a planning consultant and worked on the project between 2008 and late 2015, claiming she relied on promises made to her by her mother that if she secured its allocation for housing, the proceeds would be shared equally in the family.
The land was ultimately included in the council's Local Plan in 2015, but Julie soon discovered that her mother and brothers had already agreed a £9 million sale to developers Persimmon Homes to build a 250-house estate without her knowledge.
And the following year, despite knowing she would be due a massive windfall, her mother executed a deed of trust handing her beneficial interest in the land to her two sons.
In a letter written to her sister Virginia, read out to the court, Julie wrote: "To be extremely blunt, given the value of the farm – when dad died, but particularly now – we three have been extremely badly done to.
'Male chauvinism doesn't wash now'
"You can call it the outcome of a male-dominated farming tradition, bloody mindedness, or simply male chauvinism – whatever it was, and with no disrespect to Dad, it really doesn’t wash nowadays."
Julie sued her mother and two brothers in 2020, claiming unsuccessfully that she had been promised an equal share of the proceeds of sale if she managed to have the land removed from the Green Belt.
The judge said there was no documentary evidence to show that such promises were made and the first time Julie even mentioned them was in a letter in 2020.
But she also sued for "unjust enrichment", claiming that they had benefited hugely from her work and that she never intended to do it "for nowt".
The judge ruled in her favour on this point, accepting her evidence that “at no time did she tell either of her brothers or Shirley that she would work on this project for nothing, without expectation of any reward”.
The judge awarded Julie a payment of £652,000 from her brothers, representing a 7.5 per cent share of the uplift in value of the land from its original value of £300,000 to the £9 million it sold for.