Judith Andersson outside Central London County Court after hearing in row with Diane Ward over 'purple suitcase' full of family photos and papers
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A family of hoteliers to the stars have been slammed by a judge as ‘completely mad’ after blowing £60,000 in a court fight over a suitcase of family photos with ‘no monetary value’.

Judith Andersson and sister-in-law Diane Ward are part owners of iconic five-star American Colony Hotel, in Jerusalem, founded in 1902, which has played host over the years to Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan among others.

The sisters-in-law are currently locked into a bitter legal dispute over what should happen to a suitcase of family pictures.

Ms Andersson, 76, claims that her mother, Frieda, who died aged 77 in Richmond, west London, in 1993, wanted the albums to be shared among the siblings, being passed from one to the next as each died. 

The suitcase of cherished photo albums and papers – described as an ‘archive’ by Ms Andersson– were taken by the eldest child, Tim, on their mother’s death, and he kept them until he died in 2020.

But Ms Andersson is now suing her brother’s widow for the suitcase – which sat on the court floor throughout a two-day hearing last week.  

Judith Andersson outside Central London County Court after hearing in row with Diane Ward over 'purple suitcase' full of family photos and papers

Judith Andersson outside Central London County Court after hearing in row with Diane Ward over ‘purple suitcase’ full of family photos and papers

She claims that his family’s refusal to let her have it now was part of her brother’s ‘twisted retribution’ after an earlier inheritance row, which had centred around allegations that she owed her mother money before she died.

In a case that has already racked up £60,000 in legal costs, Ms Andersson claims that in accordance with her mother’s wishes, the suitcase should now be handed over to her, since both her brothers are now dead.

The court heard that the disputed photos and papers have ‘no monetary value’ and that in a previous hearing before another judge, the row was described as ‘completely mad’ by Judge Nigel Gerald.

The costly battle playing out at Central London County Court over a purple suitcase containing family pictures and other memorabilia is the latest in a series of legal disputes that have bedevilled the the once close-knit family.

Frieda, the matriarch, was born in Jerusalem, where her grandparents Horatio Gates Spafford and Anna Spafford formed the American Colony in the late 19th century, in a former palace which became the American Colony Hotel.

Ms Andersson is now suing her brother's widow, Diane Ward (pictured), for the suitcase, claiming his family's refusal to let her have it now was part of her brother's 'twisted retribution' after an earlier inheritance row

Ms Andersson is now suing her brother’s widow, Diane Ward (pictured), for the suitcase, claiming his family’s refusal to let her have it now was part of her brother’s ‘twisted retribution’ after an earlier inheritance row

The iconic five-star American Colony Hotel, in Jerusalem, founded in 1902, has played host over the years to Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan among others

The iconic five-star American Colony Hotel, in Jerusalem, founded in 1902, has played host over the years to Lawrence of Arabia, Winston Churchill and Bob Dylan among others

The 'purple suitcase' at the centre of court row between Judith Andersson and Diane Ward outside Central London County Court

The ‘purple suitcase’ at the centre of court row between Judith Andersson and Diane Ward outside Central London County Court

The ‘colony’ was of devout American and Swedish Christians, who were known for their charity work with local people, irrespective of their religion in the divided Middle East.

The hotel became a haven for Western travellers and today is seen as an ‘oasis of neutrality’ in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and describes itself as one of Jerusalem’s ‘premier boutique hotels’ and a ‘home away from home for discerning travellers.’

Frieda trained as a nurse and lived in Israel, Cyprus, Nigeria and New York during an interesting life, but was living in Hampton Wick, Richmond, when she died in 1993.

She left her estate to her three children, Ms Andersson and her brothers John and Tim Ward.

The American Colony Hotel 

The hotel dates back to the end of the 19th century when the Spafford family, devout Christians from America, and their friends settled in Jerusalem and bought the building. 

It was initially designed as a palace for a pasha and his four wives and often used as a hospital in the turbulent years that followed.

The hotel is a ten minute drive from Jerusalem’s Jaffa Gate, one of the main entrances to the old city, and so it is an ideal base for exploring the ancient sites that Jerusalem has to offer. 

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Jesus Christ was crucified and is supposed to have risen from the dead, is a twenty minute walk away from the palatial hotel. 

A suite costs £620 per night, while the hotel offers a junior suite for £500.

A standard room comes in at around £250-300.  

Guests who have entered its calming lobby over the years have included Lawrence of Arabia, the painter Marc Chagall and Sir Winston Churchill.

More recently, Robert de Niro and Bob Dylan and Tony Blair have stayed there. 

But Ms Andersson – who lives in the United States – told Judge Mark Raeside that the ‘archive’ contained in the suitcase was a ‘special’ set of property, which was to be treated differently to the rest of their mother’s estate.

They had agreed that all three would own it, but that Tim would take possession initially, with it then passing to each sibling as the others died, ultimately remaining intact and in the family, she claimed.

‘It was specifically anticipated that the last one of us remaining alive would hold the archive…that the archive would remain with one of us,’ she told the judge.

Her barrister, Oliver Ingham, said the suitcase is an ‘invaluable repository of her family history,’ stressing that it is not a ‘trivial’ matter despite the fact it has ‘no monetary value.’  

He also said the archive has ‘potential historic interest, given the family links to the British presence in Israel.’

He argued that the siblings had agreed that, despite the archive going to Tim initially, it would be owned by all of them, and any of them could ask for it to be handed over.

Despite that, Tim had refused to provide it to his sister when she asked and, following his death, his widow Mrs Ward had also refused to hand it over, he told Judge Raeside.

‘It is clear that Mrs Andersson has spent the best part of 29 years taking various steps to try and obtain access to the archive,’ her barrister added.

‘This clear history of pursuing this aim indicates strongly that she has always considered herself to be entitled to access, that she cares very deeply about the archive.’

But Mrs Ward, 77, who lives near Northampton, denied that there had been any agreement between them that the three siblings would share the contents of the case, since photos could not be physically shared.

‘It is clear that personal effects such as are claimed here cannot physically be shared equally and the siblings would have had to have made decisions about the division of those items,’ said her barrister, Elissa Da Costa-Waldman.

‘This is why Frieda did not complete a memorandum of wishes [relating to the archive], preferring her children to choose those items for themselves.’

Following Frieda’s death, the siblings had discussed their mother’s possessions and chosen what each would take, with Tim choosing the papers and photos held in the suitcase, she said.

‘I would submit that it’s clear that the Ward siblings met to choose what they wanted from their late mother’s belongings,’ she said.

Mrs Da Costa-Waldman said the contents of the case were of ‘sentimental value’ to all and that Mrs Ward had tried to settle the row by offering to provide copies or originals of items.

At the end of the two-day hearing, Judge Raeside said it was ‘improbable and implausible’ that Judith Andersson would have agreed that her brother Tim would be allowed to have it all for himself.

He made a declaration that the photos and papers had been held on trust by Tim Ward for the benefit of all three siblings and that there was an agreement that the archive would not be split up.

However, he adjourned the question of what specifically will now happen with the suitcase until another hearing later this month.

The case has cost an estimated £60,000 in lawyers’ bills, but the question of who pays will also be decided by the judge later.

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