A Team GB Olympic sprinter has won a court fight over a house with her bigamist dad’s fourth ‘wife’.
But 100m runner Emma Ania has been left with nothing after the six-year inheritance battle swallowed up all the value in her late father Austin Ania’s home.
The sprinter’s dad died aged 84 in 2016, having married four different women, but only ever divorcing one of them.
He had not made a will, leading to a bitter fight between his fourth ‘wife’ Florence Ania, Olympian daughter Emma and her mum, Patricia Ania, over his east London home.
Judge Nigel Gerald ruled retired nurse Florence was only in a “marriage of convenience” with Austin and found that Emma and her mum don’t have to hand her a single penny.
But the court heard that Emma, who competed for Team GB in the 2008 Olympics – has also been left with nothing because of the costs of fighting with her ‘stepmum.’
Emma Ania, now 42, was a successful athlete and was part of the British team which failed to complete the 4 x 100m relay final at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 following a baton handover mishap.
She missed out on London 2012 due to injury, but has since gone on to forge a successful career as a personal trainer.
She was one of nine children whose father had with his first two wives, Mary, who was later divorced, and Emma’s mum Patricia.
He married Patricia in 1974 and separated in 1991, but despite not going through a divorce he went on to marry a younger woman, Toyin, two years later.
That marriage also failed, but again he failed to divorce before marrying his fourth ‘wife’, Florence, in 2000, meaning Patricia was his last lawful wife.
Mr Ania had suffered with ill health for much of his adult life and died in 2016, sparking a fight over his home in Leyton, east London.
Following a trial at Central London County Court last year, Judge Gerald threw out claims by both Florence and Patricia that they were entitled to the house, which was in Mr Ania’s name.
Giving judgment, he said “emotions have run particularly high” between the warring parties, with Patricia and Emma taking a “very strong dislike” to Florence.
“The combined view of the defendants is that Florence is an imposter, essentially, who entered into a civil marriage of convenience with [Mr Austin] and has sought to take advantage of his frailty and advanced years to get money out of the estate,” he said.
“Florence, on the other hand, regards herself very much as the wronged woman because it is her position that when she married the deceased she did so in good faith, not knowing that he was already married and therefore was entering into a bigamous marriage. “
Although they had married at Haringey Registry Office in 2000, Mr Ania and Florence had never been a genuine couple, the judge found.
Their marriage was simply a way for Nigerian-born Florence, who had had an asylum claim rejected, to get permission to stay in England.
Florence, who had claimed to have “sacrificed 18 years of my life” to care for Mr Ania, had told a “straight lie,” he said.
They had not married in a “tribal” ceremony in Nigeria, but only in a civil ceremony in London to help her stay in the UK.
“At no time did Florence regard herself as having anything other than a fake marriage or marriage of convenience with the deceased,” he found.
“Florence and the deceased connived to agree the marriage of convenience purely and solely to enable Florence to remain in the United Kingdom because her asylum claim was bound to fail, because it was based on a tissue of lies.
“Not only did she willingly participate in the 2000 civil marriage, knowing that it was not genuine, but there never had been any tribal marriage, so giving the lie to her claim that the civil marriage was a renewal of vows.”
However, because Mr Ania had provided a home for her in his final years, she had been dependent on him and so was entitled in principle to a payout from his estate under the 1975 Inheritance Act, he added.
But the case went back to court this week after Florence claimed that the Leyton house had been deliberately sold below its true value in order to “defeat her claim” to a payout.
Although an expert had valued the property at £340,000, Emma and Patricia as administrators of the estate had sold it for only £100,000, leaving nothing to fund a payout to Florence after estate debts were paid.
For Patricia and Emma, barrister Stephen Boyd denied that the property had been deliberately sold at an “undervalue” to avoid having to give Florence a penny, pointing out that it would harm them too as they were due to inherit most of the estate.
Patricia was the main beneficiary under intestacy rules and had intended for the house to be her family home, but had to sell it because she could not get a mortgage to fund the £250,000 needed to refurbish and extend it, he said.
A deal had then been agreed with an Icelandic businessman to purchase the house for £190,000, reduced to £100,000 only because they had been unable to get Florence to leave first so it could be sold empty.
Giving judgment, Judge Gerald said the £340,000 valuation was not reliable, given the “appalling” state of the property, its sitting “squatter” Florence and the fact that it was effectively a “forced sale.”
He said mother and daughter had been placed in the position of having to sell due to unpaid debts owed by Florence from a previous court case relating to the validity of her marriage with Mr Austin.
“It seems to me very difficult to challenge the integrity of the decision which Patricia and Emma made to enter into this contract,” he said at the end of a four-day trial this week.
“There is, in my judgment, nothing surprising or untoward in the acts, conduct and behavior of Patricia and Emma, as administrators, or the third party purchaser.
“There is no evidence of any nature whatsoever of any untoward collusion. In many respects, Patricia and Emma were put in the position of a forced sale.”
The judge said Florence had made “largely bogus” claims during the case, including an off-the-cuff accusation that Emma, who lives in Belgium, and the Iceland-based purchaser are in a relationship, simply because she had been told Emma had a white boyfriend.
He continued: “Now that the property has been sold and the proceeds largely spent, from the estate accounts I have been provided with it is quite plain that the estate has negative assets.
“Her claim under the 1975 Act must fail, because there was no money. It must follow that the claim must be dismissed.”
Ordering her to now leave the house so that the new owner can take possession, he said Florence is a “squatter” with “no legal right” to remain there.
“You have got 28 days before you have to get out of the house, I’m afraid,” he told her.
“You will have to contact the local authority.”
Speaking afterwards, Emma Ania said she hoped the family could now put the six-year battle behind them.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.