British astronomers are battling for a £400,000 fortune from an astronomer who discovered a comet

British astronomers are locked in a bizarre court battle over the £400,000 fortune of a famous astronomer who left everything to his ‘best friend’ in his will – but didn’t say who it was.

Roy Panther rose to national fame in 1980 when he spotted a comet with a homemade telescope from his suburban semi-urban.

The amateur astronomer has also featured on long BBC Four show The Sky at Night when he was interviewed by Mr Patrick Moore.

Mr. Panthère, who died in 2016, had planned to leave almost all of his material possessions to the British Astronomical Association (BAA) but a bitter legal dispute has since erupted after the discovery of a new will written on his deathbed.

The handwritten document simply promises everything to ‘my best friend’ – and now lifelong friend and fellow astronomer Alan Gibbs is fighting in court to prove he is the rightful heir.

Astronomer Roy Panther (pictured) shot to national fame in 1980 when he discovered a comet with a homemade telescope at his twin property

Astronomer Roy Panther (pictured) shot to national fame in 1980 when he discovered a comet with a homemade telescope at his twin property

He made his discovery on Christmas Day in 1980 when he spotted faint signs of what would become

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

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

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

However, the case – which is due to be fought next year – is disputed by the BAA, who say that simply saying ‘my best friend’ is not enough to make a valid will and that Mr Panther was too fragile and sick at the time of writing. to fully understand what he was doing.

Mr Panther, who was 90 when he died in hospital in October 2016, was an enthusiastic amateur astronomer, who had set up an observatory using homemade equipment in his Northamptonshire home.

He made his startling discovery on Christmas Day in 1980 when he spotted faint signs of what would become “Comet Panther”.

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

It was his first hit after over 600 hours of research and he later said in a TV interview that it would mean his name would not be “forgotten to posterity”.

In 1986 he made a will, bequeathing almost all of his fortune, including his home in Walgrave, to the BAA, of which he was a longtime member.

Two friends were given small sums of cash, while another, Colin Eaton, was appointed executor and left behind £10,000 and Mr Panther’s optical and meteorological maps and equipment.

Mr Panther's friend Colin Eaton (pictured) was named executor and given £10,000, optical and weather maps and equipment

Mr Panther’s friend Colin Eaton (pictured) was named executor and given £10,000, optical and weather maps and equipment

But Mr Gibbs, also from Northampton, now claims that while in hospital before his death, Mr Panther dictated a new will, leaving everything to him.

Mr Gibbs says he transcribed the will, dated September 11, 2016, on the instructions of his old friend.

It states that “if I die” his estate will go to “my best friend”, which Mr Gibbs says can only refer to him.

“Mr Gibbs and the deceased were long-time friends, having known each other for approximately 77 years,” his solicitor, Chris Bryden, says in papers filed at Central London County Court ahead of trial next year.

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

“It is admitted and asserted that the 2016 will does not refer to Mr. Gibbs by name but rather to ‘best friend’. However, the persuasive conclusion is that the deceased by this phrase was referring to Mr. Gibbs.

“The deceased dictated the terms of the 2016 will to Mr Gibbs. So it’s only natural that he used a colloquial expression, rather than identifying it by name.

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

But the BAA denies the 2016 document was duly signed because it didn’t actually name the beneficiary.

The association also raises questions about how the document was seen, while insisting that Mr Panther was unable to fully understand what he was doing.

Sir Patrick Moore (pictured) recording the 650th

Sir Patrick Moore (pictured) recording the 650th ‘The Sky at Night’ for BBC television at his home in Selsey, West Sussex. He interviewed Mr Panther

Before the will was written, according to the BAA, he had a fall at home and was hospitalized. He claims medical staff said Mr Panther “also had trouble understanding” the communications.

The BAA says he suffered from dementia and there had been concerns about his well-being as he had left his front door unlocked, allowing people to come and go uninvited.

Although previously an ‘articulate’ man, he had been 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 of making the handwritten note, the deceased lacked capacity and did not understand its nature and effect.

“The deceased had severe communication difficulties due to his hearing and/or he 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 notes suggest Mr Panther’s condition had improved while in hospital.

He was said to be “brilliant and talkative” and speaking in sentences days before the will was written and “brilliant and communicative” the day it was written.

“The deceased himself dictated the terms of the 2016 will and was aware of the nature and extent of his assets and made it clear that he wanted Mr. Gibbs to receive the same,” Mr. Bryden.

The battle over the 2016 will is set to be heard in a three-day trial at Central London County Court next year.

He reached court last week for a short planning hearing to deal with evidence that will be heard.

Judge Alan Johns KC granted a request for medical evidence to be given at trial by doctors regarding Mr Panther’s ability to write a will while in hospital.

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