A five-star hotel owner has won a ‘totally insane’ 29-year tug-of-war with her family over a purple suitcase full of photos of her late mother.
Judith Andersson, 76, and her brother Tim Ward’s widow Diane, 77, earned £70,000 in legal bills battling over a family archive of papers and photographs previously owned by her mother, Frieda Ward, of “no monetary value.”
The treasured archive would be a valuable record of the history of her family, who founded the iconic American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem.
The high-end hotel became a destination for famous visitors to the city and has hosted the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Sir Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan.
After Frieda’s death in London in 1993, the photos came into the hands of Tim.
After he and their other sibling John died within a month of each other, Judith launched a lawsuit to get her sister-in-law’s photos.
She sued Diane and her son Peter, as executors of his estate, in Central London County Court, demanding that they give her the archive, in a purple suitcase that had been brought to court.
Judith Andersson at Central London County Court in July after hearing her case against Diane Ward over the owner of her mother’s suitcase full of family photos and papers
Judith handed the win to Judith last week, saying that the photo archive had been held by Tim for all three siblings and that it was now “Judith’s time to take advantage of them.”
And in a case previously described by another judge as ‘completely insane’ for involving items of ‘no monetary value’, he ordered Diane and her son Peter to collect the £70,000 lawyer’s bill for the case.
The court heard at the trial that Frieda was born in Jerusalem, where her grandparents Horatio Gates Spafford and Anna Spafford formed the American Colony in the late 1800s, centered around a former palace that became the American Colony Hotel.
The “colony” was formed of devout American and Swedish Christians, who were known for their charitable work with locals regardless of their religion in the divided Middle East.
The hotel became a haven for western vacationers and is today seen as an ‘oasis of neutrality’ in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
It describes itself as one of Jerusalem’s “premiere boutique hotels” and a “home from home for discerning travelers.”
Both Judith and Diane, who inherited from Tim, are co-owners of the hotel to this day.
Trained as a nurse, Frieda lived in Israel, Cyprus, Nigeria and New York, but was living in West London’s Hampton Wick when she died in 1993 at the age of 77.
Judith sued her brother Tim’s widow, Diane Ward (pictured), for the suitcase, claiming his family’s refusal to give it to her now was part of her sibling’s “twisted retaliation” after a previous inheritance row
The ‘purple suitcase’ in the middle of the court row between Judith Andersson and Diane Ward outside Central London County Court
She left her estate to her three children, Judith and her brothers John and Tim.
But Judith — who now lives in the United States — told Judge Raeside that the “archive” in the briefcase was a “special” asset, to be treated differently from the rest of their mother’s estate.
They agreed that they would own all three, but that Tim would take possession of it initially, then pass it on to each sibling while the others died, eventually remaining intact and in the family, she claimed.
The American Colony Hotel: ‘An Oasis of Neutrality’ in Jerusalem
The hotel dates back to the late 1800s when the Spafford family, devout Christians from America, and their friends settled in Jerusalem and bought the building.
Initially designed as a palace for a pasha and his four wives, it was often used as a hospital in the turbulent years that followed.
The hotel is a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, one of the main entrances to the Old City, making it an ideal base for exploring the ancient sites Jerusalem has to offer.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Jesus Christ was crucified and is said to have risen from the dead, is a 20-minute walk from the palatial hotel.
A suite costs £620 per night, while the hotel offers a junior suite for £500.
A standard room costs about €250-300.
Guests who have entered the soothing lobby over the years include Lawrence of Arabia, the painter Marc Chagall, and Sir Winston Churchill.
More recently, Robert de Niro and Bob Dylan and Tony Blair have stayed there. Mr Blair was there during his time as Middle East Peace Envoy.
“It was specifically expected that the last of us alive would have the archive… that the archive would remain with one of us,” she told the judge.
Her lawyer, Oliver Ingham, said the briefcase is an “invaluable repository of her family history”, stressing that it is not a “trivial” matter despite the fact that it has “no monetary value”.
He also said the archive “may have historical significance given its family ties to the British presence in Israel.”
He argued that the siblings agreed that, despite the archive going to Tim in the first instance, it would belong to all of them, and that any of them could ask to hand it over.
Despite this, Tim had refused to give it to his sister when she asked and after his death his widow Diane, who lives near Northampton, also refused to give it up, he told the judge.
“It’s clear that for the better part of 29 years Judith has taken several steps to gain access to the archive,” he added.
For Diane and Peter, Elissa Da Costa-Waldman claimed that after Frieda’s death, the siblings discussed their mother’s belongings and chose which each to take, with Tim picking out the papers and photos in the briefcase.
But in a partial ruling at the end of the trial in July, Judge Raeside ruled that the archive had been held by Tim for the benefit of all three siblings, and should not be split up.
When he returned to court last week to decide what to do with it, he rejected a proposal from Diane and Peter to keep one of the photo albums in the suitcase.
‘The correct approach is not to divide the entire archive. All of Judith’s siblings have benefited from it in their lifetime and now is the time for Judith to have it,” he said.
“I order that the archive be given to Judith within 21 days by Diane and Peter, as co-executors of Tim Ward’s will, and that she may keep it for her life.
“On Judith’s death, this archive will be returned to the UK and will be kept by Diane and Peter, as executors of Tim Ward’s estate, and therefore return to his proper home.”
Founded in 1902, the iconic five-star American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem has over the years hosted the likes of Lawrence of Arabia, Sir Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan
Mr Ingham, on behalf of Judith, argued that Diane and Peter had been given several opportunities to agree on what would have happened to the archive without a lawsuit and that they had behaved “unreasonably”.
But Ms Da Costa-Waldman insisted that because some legal issues had been decided against Judith, the case had resulted in a ‘no-score draw’ and that each would have to pay their own costs.
She said the battle had been “strenuous and stressful” for Diane, who is a retiree and who was in ill health as a direct result of the pressure of the charges.
She had brought the briefcase to the court in the middle of the row during the trial, hoping that “common sense would prevail” and the argument could be settled without trial.
But by having Diane and Peter pay the costs of the case, Judge Raeside said that while she hadn’t passed all the legal arguments, Judith had filed the claim to get her hands on the archive and had succeeded in that bid.
“Diane and Peter should pay Judith’s expenses,” he said.
In addition to their own legal costs of £32,800, Diane and Peter, as executors of Tim’s estate, will have to pay Judith’s lawyers’ bills, estimated at £37,800, with £30,000 upfront.
After hearing of the court costs incurred, Judge Nigel Gerald, who sat at a previous hearing of the feud, described the dispute as “absolutely crazy.”