'Downsizing' Tipperary estate owner fails in €1.37m sale challenge

The owner of a 5,200-acre country estate who said he wanted to "downsize" by buying an abandoned manor house with 230 acres and do it up has failed in High Court application to force the completion of a €1.37m purchase deal.

'Downsizing' Tipperary estate owner fails in €1.37m sale challenge

The owner of a 5,200-acre country estate who said he wanted to "downsize" by buying an abandoned manor house with 230 acres and do it up has failed in High Court application to force the completion of a €1.37m purchase deal.

Anthony Sheedy, who travels back and forth from Ireland to the US for his mining and waste-to-energy businesses, owns the 5,200-acre Slievenamon Estate, near Clonmel, Co. Tipperary.

Mr Sheedy hoped to downsize from Slievenamon by buying the 230-acre manor house estate, Whitfield Court, in Kilmeadan, Co. Waterford, which he said would be the last home for him and his wife Margaret to settle in.

The vendor pulled out of the deal after Mr Sheedy insisted on certain conditions in the contract.

Whitfield is an early 19th-century, Italianate-style country house built for William Christmas and is a listed building.

It was previously owned by Co. Antrim developer Alistair Jackson who paid more than €4m for it. Mr Jackson planned to turn it into a hotel and golf resort but following planning delays that project was never realised.

In 2012, a receiver was appointed over Mr Jackson's assets, including Whitfield, after his loans were acquired by NAMA. The Whitfield mortgage was taken over in 2014 by the Promontoria Eagle fund and Peter Stapleton continued on as receiver.

Mr Stapleton, who is a director of Lisney Dublin auctioneers and a surveyor, put it up for sale and eventually agreed a €1.37m price with Mr Sheedy. The auctioneer's estimate of the cost of restoring the house was €2.2m though Mr Sheedy believed it could be done for between €1.5m and €1.75m.

A deposit totalling €120,000 was paid but difficulties arose in relation to alleged trespass by horses being left on the land, encroachments on the boundary and continued deterioration of the house.

In June 2017, lawyers for the receiver wrote to Mr Sheedy's solicitors saying the contract would be rescinded unless conditions he wanted in the contract in relation to trespass, encroachment and house condition, were withdrawn.

Mr Sheedy refused and in October 2017, his deposit was returned. He then brought legal proceedings.

Mr Justice Michael Quinn dismissed Mr Sheedy's application for an order for specific performance of the sale contract by the vendor.

The judge said when the agreement to sell was made, the contract included a 2005 deed map, the accuracy of which was not guaranteed.

While the contract provided for vacant possession, the receiver's efforts to meet Mr Sheedy's "changing and expanding demands", including insisting the receiver bring legal proceedings against the alleged trespassers, exceeded what had been contracted for, the judge said.

Contract conditions precluded Mr Sheedy from relying on any deterioration of the house condition in relation to completing the contract, he said. The receiver had reasonable grounds to apply the general contract condition allowing him to rescind the contract and he was not acting in breach of the contract, he said.

The judge also said while Mr Sheedy gave evidence to the court that his objective in buying Whitfield was to "downsize", details emerged during the case that AIB had in 2017 secured a €2.6m judgment against him for default on a debt.

Further proceedings led to a settlement between him and AIB whereby the bank was to get possession of his property in Tipperary.

The judge said this was significant in relation to his claim of downsizing. Taken with his "unsatisfactory evidence" in relation to a map he offered in the case and "the questionable authorship" of witness statements provided by his side, the court concluded Mr Sheedy "lacked candour in the presentation of his case".

It also emerged, through court discovery, that he was engaged in communications with Sotheby's International Realty regarding a possible onward sale of Whitfield to a client of that firm for €1.8m.

That deal did not go ahead but, while it was being discussed, Mr Sheedy wrote to Sotheby's saying, among other things, that "the disgraceful manner" in which the vendor behaved had taken "the good out of it for Margaret (his wife)".

He added Margaret had "completely gone 'off' it at present. That has left me in a quandary".

The judge said while the fact Mr Sheedy was involved in an onward sale discussion would not necessarily deprive him of a remedy requiring the vendor to complete the contract, the letter to Sotheby's was "informative in understanding where the plaintiff's (Sheedy's) attention was at that stage in history".

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