Lawyer costs could have helped brother buy bach off feuding siblings

After a lengthy battle over a family bach Grant Parkins is on the brink of believing if justice exists.​

The middle brother of three is the reluctant star of the Parkins family drama over a property in the Marlborough Sounds which was left to the siblings in their father’s will.

He went to court believing he was right but after a judge recently ruled against him he’s questioning whether it was all worth it.

“I realise that going on a gut feeling means nothing in the legal process but I’d be disappointed if in years to come I didn’t try and then thought, ‘why the hell didn’t I do that’?”

Parkins initially declined to be interviewed for a story featured in the Herald on Sunday last week after a judge dismissed his latest effort be recognised as being the larger contributor to the property than his brothers but has now decided to speak out about how the Parkins rift became a rupture.

The shame of it all, he said, was the money that could have been used to help buy the property off his brothers has instead been swallowed by legal fees – about $100,000 so far and rising.

The 49-hectare property at Oyster Bay, in a part of the Sounds known as Croisilles Harbour, was developed by Morris and Rosalie Parkins, together with their three sons, Steve, Grant and Reece.

Rosalie died in 1999, not long after the bach was finished, and Morris in 2010, after which the three brothers inherited an equal share in the property.

At the heart of the dispute was Grant’s desire for a greater interest in the property than the three-way split given in the will. He claimed to have contributed more than his brothers to its development and was therefore entitled to a larger share of the value of improvements.

While there was no dispute about Grant’s early input, there was disagreement over how much he claimed to have spent on the property, and his brothers’ input later.

Grant took up the fight in the belief he was on solid ground. Failure to agree at mediation forged the path to the District Court, which dismissed Grant’s claim. The High Court reached the same conclusion and recently dismissed his appeal.

The process has been stressful for everyone involved with Grant’s older brother Steve telling Open Justice last week that the battle is something their father never would have wanted.

Another family member said it been “absolute devastation”.

“It’s a place where we used to love to go, as it was all about family.”

Grant’s partner, Debra Jane Henderson said she gave up any hope of a solution, or reconciliation a couple of years ago at mediation.

Grant, like Steve, told Open Justice they were fighting for what each believed was right.

From his engineering workshop in Nelson, where Grant once made some famous props for the Lord Of The Rings trilogy – and now uses one ring as a paperweight, he wonders how it all went so wrong.

“I went in thinking, ‘how can I lose’?”

It was a big question that often went unanswered, but Grant has learned that watertight evidence and an eloquent argument was what made the difference – photographs of him working on the land were no match for the story that receipts and solid timelines told.

And that is where the story begins.

Grant was living at home with his parents when Rosalie began her private war with the cancer which eventually claimed her life.

The land in the Sounds had been bought in 1990, but the house came later. Grant said he initiated the project, with his father’s support, finally settling on a slice of former farmland and forest in Oyster Bay.

It had been a fruitless search until they placed a “land wanted” ad in a newspaper.

“I jumped on my motorbike and spent a couple of months riding that side of the Sounds. I went down every driveway and knocked on doors, and in the end we settled on this place.”

Oyster Bay was one of many nooks and crannies in the Croisilles Harbour, whose name bore reference to French naval officer and explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville who charted the Tasman Bay coastline.

Grant said the property appealed because it was “away from everyone” and had a good source of fresh water. He helped with its early development, hauling trailer loads of Summerhill stone cladding and timber linings for the new bach.

“There were a hell of a lot of trips getting stuff down there.”

Grant said it was he who put in moorings used by everyone from local boaties to Hollywood royalty, including Tom Cruise and his former wife Katie Holmes who once pulled in on a giant sailing catamaran.

He said it was quite the sight to see Cruise wakeboarding past their front yard. Debra Jane said they knew best not to bother them.

“We ignored him… but if it had been Matthew McConaughey then I would have been all over that,” said the Chicago-born, Florida-raised businesswoman who breezed into Grant’s workshop one day in 2003 while in Nelson on business, and never left.

Those were the glory years. What the Parkins family could not have known then was the scale of the looming dispute, fuelled in part by an almighty and ongoing fight over road access. Grant believed it has played a part in the bach dispute.

Oyster Bay sat within a wider area known as Wairangi Bay, around which were dotted a few private homes and holiday homes. Landowners went to court in 2011 over plans by a private forestry partnership to close a road to their properties, which crossed a strip of land the foresters owned.

A new $300,000 road was built by one of the forestry partners to serve a new subdivision, and users were then asked to help pay for it.

The dispute grew so bitter that lives were said to be at stake. Rumours of a wild west “pistols at dawn” duel were confirmed by Grant, who stopped short of saying who held a gun to whose head.

“I went through a lot of shit over this roading matter, and other stuff like trying to prevent mussel farms jamming up all our bays.

“I went through friggin’ hell for years. I spent $50,000 to try and get that sorted. I’d been through so much I felt I couldn’t just walk away,” Grant said of the reason he was fighting.

He said the relationship with his older brother had soured some years earlier over alleged debts linked to their respective trades, but things really curdled when heirlooms were being decided upon after their father died.

“We were splitting things up and it was getting difficult so I said, ‘you know what, I’m just going to let this go’, but when it came to the property in the Sounds I knew I’d have to put my foot down.”

Grant said he had offered to buy out his brothers, including forestry he and Morris has planted, but no one could agree on a price.

“They wanted me to pay for my trees.”

Grant said was he still exploring legal options including whether to apply for leave to appeal, but he knew the stakes were high.

“How am I going to win and how much will it cost, and am I better to suffer the loss so far, or an even greater one down the track?

In truth, he did not know if it had all been worth it.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know but if I was going to break, I would have by now.

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