Potential estate dispute on the ‘unborn’ front

How dare another woman try to have my dead husband’s baby? Widow reveals her extraordinary battle over frozen sperm
Helen Weathers
April 30, 2010
DailyMail.co.uk
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1270143/Millionaires-widow-reveals-extraordinary-battle-frozen-sperm.html?ito=feeds-newsxml
For all their wealth and outward success, the one thing Andrea Walker felt was missing from the seemingly charmed life she shared with her husband Brian was a child.

‘From the moment I fell in love with Brian, I wanted a child with him, but he said he had made his choice. He was a businessman and wanted his business more than he wanted children.’

Andrea was a 43-year-old litigation solicitor and mother of two when, in 1994, she met and fell in love with self-made millionaire Brian Walker, six years her senior.

She longed for a baby with him, if not naturally then through IVF, but he was reluctant.

‘I was bitterly disappointed,’ she says. ‘But he used to say: “If we have children, we’d be old age pensioners by the time they went to college and it wouldn’t be fair on them.” ‘

Besides, didn’t they have a wonderful life anyway, as owners of the 1,000-year-old Hazlewood Castle in North Yorkshire? With love and dedication, they had turned it into a thriving hotel, a favourite venue for celebrity weddings, including that of singer Coleen Nolan.

Andrea, 59, weeps when she thinks of how much comfort a child by Brian would have brought her now that she is a widow.

He died last August aged 64, from pancreatic cancer, and her two adult children have long since flown the nest. She feels very alone.

Quite apart from her grief, Brian’s death has turned into a bizarre nightmare, turning Andrea’s world upside down and causing her to question if she ever truly knew her husband.

It has also led to a potentially groundbreaking-legal case that raises moral and ethical questions about the fertility industry.

For, to Andrea’s horror, she has discovered that Brian could soon become a father – from beyond the grave.

While she nursed him during his final weeks, believing he returned her love and devotion, he was apparently secretly planning to have the baby he’d always denied her – with another woman.

The day after Brian died at their home near Harrogate, Andrea found a red file in his office containing a number of documents that she says have left her ‘heart in pieces’.

In December 2006, unknown to his wife, Brian banked his sperm at the Reproductive Medicine Unit at Leeds General Infirmary. In 2007, he signed consent forms for it to be stored for future use.

And who was hoping to have Brian’s baby? A woman in her 30s, who had worked at their hotel and whom Andrea considered to be a friend.

On July 15, 2009, less than a month before Brian died, two credit card payments of £1,785 and £1,500 had been made – it’s not clear who by – to fund a first cycle of IVF.

‘When I saw the IVF forms, I felt numb. It was so hurtful because Brian could have had a baby with me,’ sobs Andrea.

‘I loved him with all my heart and soul. I thought those feelings were returned, but now I don’t know.

‘I’ve been to hell and back with this. I’ve been through every emotion. Pain, anger and hatred. Brian’s done this terrible, cruel thing to me and I don’t understand why.’

Andrea is locked in a remarkable legal battle – believed to be the first of its kind – to try to stop her rival, who cannot be named for legal reasons, using her late husband’s sperm to have a baby.

She is seeking a court order to force Leeds General Infirmary to release Brian’s medical notes to her solicitors – the hospital has refused to do so, on the grounds that it would breach patient confidentiality – and wants his sperm destroyed.

Leeds General Infirmary, however, seems intent on allowing the woman, whom we shall call Julie, to proceed with fertility treatment, should she so desire.

She apparently does, telling the executors of Brian’s will of her intentions, adding that she was ‘horrified’ that Andrea seemed intent on ‘destroying whatever was left of Brian’

According to the Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, which has suspended IVF treatment while it carries out its own investigation, the team in the reproductive medicine unit are ‘satisfied’ as to the nature of the relationship between Mr Walker and Julie, who presented themselves to the clinic as partners.

It said Mr Walker had been ‘extensively and appropriately’ counselled, especially with regards to his ill health and terminal cancer, and that his consent remained valid.

He was informed of his right to withdraw his consent at any time, but did not do so.

The trust’s solicitors said there is no legal bar to treatment.

Paragraph 5.17 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority code of practice states: ‘The centre need not get consent from the donor’s partner or spouse.

‘However, if the donor is married . . . the centre should encourage them to seek their partner’s support for the donation of their gametes.’

Andrea is challenging the signature on one of the consent documents, believing it to be a forgery.

‘This hospital seems to be intent on aiding the birth of an adulterous child, knowing that I, his wife, object,’ she says.

‘They will not provide me with his medical notes because they say they are following my husband’s “implied wishes”. To me, it’s unethical and immoral, but they are saying: “Oh, well, it’s not illegal.”

‘It’s horrendous. There seems to be no thought of the child. Anyone who says they want a baby seems to get one, no matter what.’

Andrea wants a change in the law to protect wives and widows in such circumstances, and says fertility clinics have gone too far since Diane Blood won the legal right in 1997 to use her dead husband’s frozen sperm to conceive a baby.

Watching Andrea cry, you can’t help but wonder what could have induced her husband to treat her so cruelly. She is the first to admit that their marriage was far from perfect.

Women, she says sadly, were Brian’s Achilles’ heel and his head could be turned by a pretty face, but he would always deny it when she suspected he was having an affair.

The son of a seamstress, he was charming, ambitious and ruthless when he needed to be, and made millions from his office refurbishment company in Leeds.

Married to his second wife for 15 years, he met Andrea at a VIP dinner following a Pavarotti concert in London. Andrea, a married Derby-based solicitor and talented soprano, had sung that night in the World Festival Choir with Pavarotti.

She says Brian pursued her relentlessly. ‘I fell head over heels in love with him. He was charming, attentive and exciting,’ she says.

‘I was besotted and he was the same. It was the romance of the century for me.’ So besotted were they that they decided to leave their spouses to be together.

At first, she says, they were deliriously happy, with big dreams for the future. In 1996, the couple were driving along the A64 when they saw the sign ‘Castle For Sale’ and on impulse went to see it.

Hazlewood Castle dates back to 1086 and had been owned by descendants of the Vavasours family for more than 800 years.

Sold in 1908, it was a maternity hospital during World War II. Until the Walkers bought it for £940,000, it was a retreat for Carmelite friars.

After a £2 million refurbishment, it opened as a luxury hotel in August 1997, with the celebrity chef John Benson-Smith and his wife Ali managing the enterprise.

Hazlewood was voted Hotel Of The Year by the England for Excellence Awards in 1999 and by the Yorkshire Tourist Board in 2002, and over the years played host to Prince Andrew and restaurant critic Michael Winner.

It also provided the backdrop for Andrea and Brian’s own wedding in February 2000.

Quite apart from owning the castle, where they lived in the keep, each had a thriving career. Brian had his refurbishment business in Leeds while Andrea established her own firm of solicitors

Then, in 2001, Andrea’s world fell apart when she discovered Brian was having an affair, after finding a note in a drawer from another woman saying: ‘Missing you.’

‘I was devastated. He told me he had the affair because he thought I wasn’t paying him enough attention, that I was too involved in my work,’ she says.

‘He said he didn’t feel he was the first person in my world any more, but I insisted that he was. He wanted it to be like when we first met, the big romance, but life isn’t like that.

‘I still loved him and he ended the affair, but it took me time to forgive him. I thought we’d got over it and moved on.’

In 2005, Brian was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, around the same time his friendship with Julie began.

One of the hotel employees, she was helpful and friendly, but Andrea never considered Julie a threat to her troubled marriage.

When Brian became distant and argumentative with her, friends assured her it due to the Parkinson’s – she felt guilty for suspecting there might be another woman.

It was only after his death that Andrea discovered that Julie and Brian had spent hours talking in his office.

Nor did she know that in 2007 and 2008 Brian had given Julie a total of £84,586. He had also made a new will naming her as a beneficiary, but this was later revoked.

In another shock to Andrea, she discovered Brian made yet another new will last year, closing a trust that contained his assets and which she would have inherited on his death. This paid a substantial income, which she would have inherited.

In its place, he set up a discretionary trust run by his half-brother and accountant. Andrea must make a claim on that trust.

It was Brian who decided to sell the hotel in 2008, having been diagnosed with prostate cancer, which left him impotent.

Andrea says she didn’t want to sell, but his mind was made up.

Brian gave her £1.3 million and told her to buy a new home for them. They put an offer on a house, which was accepted.

But when Andrea returned from a visit to her musician son in Los Angeles in November 2008, Brian dropped another bombshell.

‘He said: “Look, I want to speak to you,” ‘ says Andrea.

‘I remember feeling really scared. My stomach was full of butterflies, I knew something was wrong.

‘He said: “I don’t want to buy that house with you.” Then he said: “I’ve left you.” ‘

Andrea says: ‘My head was in a spin and my heart was broken. I asked if there was anyone else and he denied it. He said he didn’t want a divorce, but that he needed to be on his own and sort himself out.’

They lived apart for a time and Andrea says she kept praying for her husband’s return. She has e-mails in which he tells her that, despite everything, he would always love her.

Then, in February 2009, Brian was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

‘When he showed me the consultant’s letter saying he had six months to live, he said: “It’s strange how knowing you are going to die concentrates your mind,” ‘ says Andrea.

‘And I said: “Yes, we have got to sort ourselves out because every moment is precious. Every moment has always been precious, but now it is even more so.” ‘

From then on, Andrea devoted herself to his care. Brian moved into the house Andrea had bought that June, but was too ill to share her bed.

Painfully thin and weak, he could barely eat and had to take morphine for the pain. ‘In those final weeks, we hugged and kissed and it was just like it had been when we met. We said “I love you” every day. Then he was gone.’

Andrea believes the red file, left for her to find after his death, was Brian’s ‘confession’ – he wanted her to know what he hadn’t been able to tell her while he was alive.

She has discovered a handwritten note from Brian to his solicitors saying there was ‘no sexual’ affair with the prospective mother of his child.

So why had Brian agreed to be a sperm donor? Faced with his own mortality, did he suddenly decide he wanted his genes to live on?

‘He’d never have wanted to bring a baby into the world in his sane mind if he couldn’t have some part in their life and know the child was being well cared for,’ says Andrea.

‘He wasn’t the sort of person who just wanted to put part of his gene pool into the world. If he had wanted his name to live on, he’d had plenty of chances to have a baby with me.

‘He must have been besotted with this woman, even though she wasn’t his mistress in the conventional sense. As for her motives, perhaps she thought: “I can have a baby and get some money, too.” ‘

If Julie has Brian’s baby, Andrea points out she might feel entitled to make a claim on his estate.

‘I just can’t believe what’s been going on behind my back,’ she says. ‘I thought I was a strong, sensible and logical person, but Brian has made me doubt myself to the point where I can’t rebuild my life. I miss him, love him and hate him, all at the same time.

‘It’s bad enough finding out that your husband had some kind of relationship with another woman, but to have this hanging over me after his death is far worse.’

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