A piece in today’s Times:
When her lover was sent to prison for mortgage fraud more than 20 years ago Nicola Oberman said that she stood by him even though they had been together for only a year.
In return, she claims, he wrote letters from his cell promising that half of what would become a multimillion pound property empire would be hers.
Today, after a 22-year relationship during which the couple had two children and owned more than 40 properties in London and Kent, the letters Ms Oberman says that Shaun Collins wrote are at the centre of a legal fight over the £8 million property portfolio.
Ms Oberman, 53, claims that she and Mr Collins, a former estate agent, are equal owners of the properties. The couple began their relationship in 1995 and spent two decades together and had two children.
The couple never married and split up five years ago. Ms Oberman is now bringing a claim that she was promised a 50 per cent share of 41 properties that her legal team says was acquired and managed jointly by the couple. It is also claimed that Ms Oberman injected vital money into the business while Mr Collins was in prison.
Ms Oberman has told the High Court that Mr Collins wrote several letters to her from his cell in which he promised that half the property was hers even though they were not married.
Mr Collins, however, denies this, and has told the court that he “solely conducted the entire business” with little help from his former partner. He has described Ms Oberman as a “stay-at-home mother” who “did not like working”.
Jack Watson, representing Ms Oberman, said that Mr Collins, 53, had worked in property sales before he was given a six-month sentence for mortgage fraud in 1996. While imprisoned he sent Ms Oberman a series of letters detailing plans for their future together and their business, Mr Watson told Judge Tom Leech, QC.
Mr Watson said that when Mr Collins was released he lived with Ms Oberman and relied on her for financial support, adding that she sold her flat in southeast London and put the proceeds into the joint business.
She also contributed a cash gift from her parents and spent much unpaid time working for the business on the basis that the property portfolio they were building was equally owned, Mr Watson said.
“Over a period of nearly 20 years, Mr Collins continuously represented both by his express communications and by his conduct that Ms Oberman was the joint owner of the portfolio as part of a common business endeavour,” he said.
“While in prison, Mr Collins sent a number of letters to Ms Oberman and they discussed the business they would build together.
“Mr Collins wrote to Ms Oberman informing her that there would be ‘much to do and organise’ and that he was ‘actually getting very excited about doing so much together’.”
Ms Oberman claims that even after the couple parted, Mr Collins continued to assure her that the portfolio was jointly owned and that they would be split equally “as if they had been married”, Mr Watson said.
He said that it was “simply implausible” for Mr Collins now to claim they had never discussed the business as being a joint venture between them.
Robert Deacon, representing Mr Collins, told the court: “Ms Oberman made minimal contributions to the business. Virtually everything was done by Mr Collins.”
The hearing continues.
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