British astronomers are locked in a battle over a £400,000 fortune from a stargazer who spotted a comet

British stargazers are embroiled in a bizarre court battle over the £400,000 fortune of a celebrated astronomer who left it all in his will to his ‘best pal’ – but didn’t say who it was.

Amateur astronomer Roy Panther rose to national fame in 1980 when he spotted a comet out of his suburban crescent using a homemade telescope.

The discovery earned him a mention in the record books and he also appeared on the long-running BBC astronomy show The Sky at Night when interviewed by Sir Patrick Moore.

Mr Panther, who died in 2016, had planned to bequeath almost all of his worldly estates to the British Astronomical Association (BAA), but a bitter court battle has since erupted after a new will was discovered on his deathbed.

The handwritten document promises everything to ‘my best pal’ – and now Alan Gibbs, a lifelong friend and stargazer, is fighting in court to prove he’s the ‘buddy’ and therefore the rightful heir.

Astronomer Roy Panther (pictured) achieved national fame in 1980 when he spotted a comet from his home using a homemade telescope

Astronomer Roy Panther (pictured) achieved national fame in 1980 when he spotted a comet from his home using a homemade telescope

He made his discovery on Christmas Day 1980 when, from his home in Walgrave, Northants, spotted the faint signs of what would later become'Comet Panther' (pictured).

He made his discovery on Christmas Day 1980 when, from his home in Walgrave, Northants, spotted the faint signs of what would later become ‘Comet Panther’ (pictured).

Mr. Panther's former semi-suburban home (pictured) where he spotted the comet with a homemade telescope

Mr. Panther’s former semi-suburban home (pictured) where he spotted the comet with a homemade telescope

However, the case, which is due to be fought next year, is being challenged by the BAA, which says simply saying “my best mate” is not enough to make a valid will and that Mr Panther was too frail and ill at the time was to fully understand what he was doing.

Mr Panther, who was 90 when he died in hospital in October 2016, was a keen amateur astronomer who had set up an observatory at his home in Northamptonshire using home-made equipment.

He made his amazing discovery on Christmas Day 1980 when, from his home in Walgrave, Northants, he spotted the faint signs of what would later become Comet Panther.

He was conducting a “systematic search” of the night sky when he spotted the new comet far north in the constellation Draco.

It was his first success after more than 600 hours of searching, and he later said in a television interview that it meant his name would “not be forgotten by posterity”.

In 1986 he made a will and bequeathed almost all of his assets, including his home in Old Road, Walgrave, to the BAA, of which he was a longtime member.

Two friends received small sums of money while another, Colin Eaton, was appointed executor, leaving £10,000 and Mr Panther’s optical and meteorological charts and equipment.

Mr Panther's friend Colin Eaton (pictured outside Central London County Court) was appointed executor and received £10,000, optical and meteorological charts and equipment.

Mr Panther’s friend Colin Eaton (pictured outside Central London County Court) was appointed executor and received £10,000, optical and meteorological charts and equipment.

But Mr Gibbs, also from Northampton, now claims that while Mr Panther was at Northampton General Hospital before his death, he dictated a new will and left everything to him.

The 11 September 2016 will, which Mr Gibbs says he transcribed at the direction of his old friend, states that “when I die” his estate would go to “my best mate”, which Mr Gibbs says can only point to him .

“Mr Gibbs and the deceased were lifelong friends who had known each other for approximately 77 years,” his attorney Chris Bryden says in documents filed ahead of next year’s trial in Central London County Court.

“They shared a strong interest in astronomy and founded an observatory together. The deceased bought the premises and Mr. Gibbs provided the equipment for this observatory.

“It is admitted and claimed that the 2016 will does not refer to Mr Gibbs by name but to ‘best mate’. The compelling conclusion, however, is that the deceased was referring to Mr Gibbs with this phrase.

“The deceased dictated the terms of the 2016 will to Mr Gibbs. It is therefore natural that he used a colloquial expression rather than naming it.

“The ordinary and natural meaning of the phrase ‘best mate’ and the intention of the deceased was clearly to refer to Mr. Gibbs.”

However, the BAA denies that the 2016 document was properly executed because the beneficiary was not actually named.

They also raise questions about how it was observed, insisting that Mr Panther was very frail and vulnerable at the time and did not fully understand what he was doing.

Sir Patrick Moore (pictured) interviewing Mr Panther and filming the 650th'The Sky at Night' for BBC television at his home in Selsey, West Sussex

Sir Patrick Moore (pictured) interviewing Mr Panther and filming the 650th ‘The Sky at Night’ for BBC television at his home in Selsey, West Sussex

Before the will was written, the BBA said he had fallen at home and been hospitalized, and medical staff said it was difficult to understand the communications.

He also had dementia, the BBA says, and there were also concerns for his well-being as he had left his front door unlocked and allowed people to come and go uninvited.

Although previously an “articulate” man, he was described as “very confused” at the hospital, where his only visitor was Mr Gibbs.

“The deceased was extremely vulnerable from August 30, 2016 until his death,” said BAA attorney Mukhtiar Singh.

“At the time the handwritten note was made, the deceased was incapable of judgment and did not understand its nature and effect.

“The deceased had significant communication difficulties due to his hearing and/or was unable to make decisions on his own due to his cognitive impairment.”

But Mr Bryden says that is only part of the story, as other medical records suggest Mr Panther’s condition had improved in hospital.

He was said to be “bright and talkative,” speaking in sentences days before the will was made, and was “bright and communicative” on the day the will was made.

“The deceased himself dictated the terms of the 2016 Will and was aware of the nature and extent of his estate and has made it clear that he wishes Mr Gibbs to receive the same,” Mr Bryden added.

The 2016 will battle is due to be heard in a three-day trial in Central London County Court next year, but reached the court last week for a brief planning hearing about the evidence to be heard.

Judge Alan Johns KC granted a request for medical evidence to be produced during the trial by doctors relating to Mr Panther’s ability to make a will at the time he was in hospital.

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11465167/British-astronomers-locked-fight-400-000-fortune-stargazer-discovered-comet.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ns_campaign=1490&ito=1490 British astronomers are locked in a battle over a £400,000 fortune from a stargazer who spotted a comet

Bradford Betz

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