UK: Couple Found Dead Together: Step-Sisters Locked In A Bitter Dispute Over Who Died First

Last Updated: 2 October 2019
Article by Alexandra Dix

Couple found dead together: step-sisters locked in a bitter dispute over who died first

John and Ann Scarle lived in a bungalow in Leigh on Sea. They did not have any children together, but both had a daughter from previous relationships (Ann’s daughter being Deborah, John’s Anna).

In 1998, Ann had a stroke. She used a walking frame around the home and a wheelchair outside. John was her carer, often getting up several times a night to assist her.

On 3 or 4 October 2016, John told his neighbour Fiona that he was getting the car ready to take to Ann and him to lunch. That was the last time anyone reported seeing the couple alive.

On 6 October, Fiona noticed that the kitchen lights were on early in the morning. On 7 October, Deborah rang her mother to congratulate the couple on their wedding anniversary, but no one picked up. She assumed they were collecting a takeaway.

On 9 October, another neighbour found a group of children in the Scarles’ garden and, when she telephoned the Scarles to let them know, again, no one picked up.

The police found John and Ann on 11 October. Ann was lying by the toilet in her nightdress and John was on the floor in the lounge in his pyjamas. In front of John was Ann’s walking frame and wheelchair. They had both died of hypothermia. Their bungalow had been turned upside down.

They jointly owned the bungalow (worth around £280,000) and had £18,000 in a joint bank account.

Conundrum: why the order of death matters

Where couples own property jointly (called a joint tenancy), the survivor ‘takes all’.

Ann left a will. John did not. If Ann died first, the bungalow would pass to John under her will (and on his death to his daughter Anna, under the intestacy rules). If John had died first, the bungalow would pass to Ann on the intestacy rules (and on her death to her daughter under her will).

The difficulty was that nobody knew who had died first – so it was not clear who got the bungalow and the bank account.

If two people die and it is ‘uncertain’ who died first, then, for inheritance purposes, it is presumed that the older died first.

Anna issued a claim in 2017, saying that the presumption should be rebutted and asking the Court to declare that it was Ann, the younger of the pair by 10 years, who died first.

How does the Court apply this rule?

Back in 1860, a judge looked at what happened after John and Mary Underwood died in a shipwreck off Beachy Head on their way to Australia. The only survivor of the wreck described seeing John, Mary and their children swept into the sea. The judge decided that there it was a ‘pure question of fact’ and he needed ‘a clear preponderance of evidence’ to decide that John (the elder) died after his wife. This evidence was not before the Court so John was deemed to have died first.

In Hickman v Peacey, two brothers were struck by a bomb in the Second World War. The House of Lords discussed whether there needed to be certainty as to who died first, or whether if the test was ‘who’, on the balance of probabilities or beyond reasonable doubt, died first. The Law Lords ultimately did not come to an agreement on this, but did decide that since it was not possible legally to have a ‘simultaneous’ death, the older survived the younger.

In Re Bate, a husband and wife were found dead in their kitchen, the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. The judge said that he had to be ‘able to come to a conclusion of fact on grounds which so far outweigh any grounds for a contrary conclusion’ to decide the older survived the younger.

The experts

There were credible theories supporting both Ann and John dying first. Had Ann collapsed first, John, who was more physically able, could have got help. The fact that he did not could lead to the inference that he collapsed first and died, leaving Ann in difficulty. However, John had pressure sores – he had been lying on his right hip for a period of time and so perhaps collapsed, followed by Ann, but whilst she passed away, he remained incapacitated for some time.

Anna and Deborah both produced experts to support their cases.

Both experts agreed that Ann’s body had been in a more advanced stage of decomposition than John’s. However, they disagreed on the importance of whether or not the toilet (where Ann was found) was warmer than the lounge (where John lay).

Anna’s expert said that Ann was more likely to have been the first to die, based on her more advanced decomposition and her previous ill-health. He thought that variations in the bungalow’s microclimate would not be so significant to change his opinion.

Deborah’s experts (including Silent Witness’ Dr Fegan-Earl) said that ‘temperature was the single most important factor and in the absence of any evidence as to the relative temperatures in the lounge and toilet he could not...reliably determine who died first.

The decision

The Judge decided that the evidence left the order of Mr and Mrs Scarle’s death ‘uncertain’. The differences in decomposition between Mr and Mrs Scarle weren’t necessarily because Ann died first – they could be because of different temperatures between the rooms. Therefore, the Judge treated John as having died first.

There are reports in the press that Anna was ordered to pay her step-sister’s costs on the indemnity basis (of up to £84,000), in addition to her own, which neared £100,000. She was apparently penalised heavily for rejecting an early offer from Deborah to split the estate 50:50 and refusing to mediate.

Anna’s insistence of pursuing her case in the face of a well-established legal principle and her refusal to entertain alternative dispute resolution led to the Court penalising her heavily on costs.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions