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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK
Heiress jail threat lifted
The future of the family home has caused a feud
The future of the family home has caused a feud
A County Down heiress at the centre of a legal wrangle over family antiques has been told that she will not have to return to jail.

Marion Russell, 33, spent a week behind bars after failing to reveal where she had hidden furniture and paintings worth 250,000 which she took from the ancestral home, Mourne Park House, in Kilkeel.

She was held in contempt of court and sent to Maghaberry Prison, County Antrim.

The application to have her committed to prison was made by lawyers acting for her sister, Mrs Debonair Horsman, 35, of Banbridge, County Down and her brother, Philip Anley, 26, of Mourne Park.

However, that injunction was lifted in the High Court in Belfast on Thursday.

Marion Russell
Marion Russell: Spent seven days in prison

Afterwards, Mrs Russell - who lives in converted stables on the 800-acre estate - said: "I'm very pleased."

Mrs Russell said she could make no further comment until she spoke to her solicitor.

The development came a day after her two siblings dropped their objection to her action to set aside an earlier court order which gave each of them a one-third "pick" of family heirlooms valued at 750,000.

Mrs Russell - a relative of former Conservative MP and ex-Northern Ireland Minister Richard Needham, the Earl of Kilmorey, - maintained that the items she removed were her legal one-third entitlement.

A barrister for Mrs Horsman and Mr Anley argued that Mrs Russell should be ordered to deliver the items she removed in order that a successful auction of family heirlooms could be held.

"The items removed were the best in the overall collection and included a dining room table worth 60,000," he said.

Richard Needham: Relative of Mrs Russell
Richard Needham: Relative of Mrs Russell

"Potential buyers, some from abroad, might not bother to come to an auction if only smaller items are available."

Mr Justice Girvan said if the items still in Mourne Park House raised 500,000 at auction then Mrs Horsman and Mr Anley would each get 250,000.

"If they get less then you have a claim against Mrs Russell in monetary terms," the judge said.

The judge said it was open to Mrs Russell's sister and brother to bring a fresh application to send her back to prison, as part of the unresolved proceedings in relation to items removed.

"If they do they will have to produce appropriate material and the court will have to look very carefully at the balance of convenience," said the judge.

The court action is the culmination of a 10-year family battle over the future of the Kilkeel estate and whether it should be kept private or opened to the public.

See also:

01 Oct 02 | N Ireland
24 Sep 02 | N Ireland
11 Feb 02 | N Ireland
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