Son sues dad in family cash row

James O'Donnell gave his son a gift of �11,000 to help him clear his debts. Picture: Toby Williams

James O'Donnell gave his son a gift of �11,000 to help him clear his debts. Picture: Toby Williams

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A SON has sued his 71-year-old father after a bitter dispute over a family fortune spiralled out of control.

Robbie O’Donnell launched a legal action to claim cash from the property investment firm where his father, James, is a director, after he inherited shares on his 40th birthday.

He claimed he was due an unpaid dividend from the company.

However, because the 46-year-old admitted accepting a gift of £11,000 from his father after running into financial problems, his bid has been kicked out by a judge.

Judge Lord Malcolm heard how the father, a respected retired dentist who lives in Barnton, provided a cash lifeline in return for his son agreeing to call off a court bid to win £23,000 from the family business, RJ O’Donnell Ltd.

However, the son reneged on his promise, launching a court action and causing a huge family rift.

The argument can trace its roots back 20 years to family matriarch Karoline O’Donnell and her decision to leave each grandchild a four per cent share in RJ O’Donnell which was to be held in trust until they turned 40.

Two grandchildren – Robbie O’Donnell and Dominic Pelosi – took legal action complaining that no dividends were paid to them between 1994 and 2000, suing James O’Donnell and other trustees.

The Court of Session heard the feud arose when Robbie turned 40 in 2007 and received his company shares. He hired a solicitor to pursue allegedly unpaid dividends, leaving his father “very hurt” while the dispute had an “impact” on the health of his mother, Ellen.

In 2010, Robbie – who had then moved to Spain with his wife and family – phoned his father to ask for a meeting, at which he told his parents he had not paid his mortgage for three months, leaving him £5000 in debt, while he owed £6000 to a building contractor.

Mr O’Donnell told the court he was “shocked” by his eldest son’s financial difficulties and worried for his daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

He wrote cheques for the full amount after Robbie pledged to end the legal battle over the dividends, but his son later reneged on the deal.

A letter from son to father from January 2012 was presented to the court. It read: “Following our return from Spain, Mum requested I stop the legal action, as she saw this as the only way you both could have a relationship with my children. I did so. Unfortunately as late as New Year 2012, no effort has been made to establish this relationship.”

Days later, Mr O’Donnell replied to his son. The letter read: “You told me, in mum’s presence, that in return for payment to you of £11,000, you agreed to settle and finalise the matter which you had been pursuing against me. These cheques were cashed by you, thereby settling the issue. If, however, you propose to renege on our agreement, please return the £11,000 to me, without delay.”

Lord Malcolm dismissed his bid for extra cash from the family business, though Mr Pelosi’s claim remains outstanding.

Neither James nor Robbie O’Donnell wished to comment.