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Beaverbrook saga goes back to court Add to ...

In a case described by some as sour grapes, the heirs of Lord Beaverbrook will have another chance to get their hands on the fabulous art collection kept in New Brunswick's Beaverbrook Art Gallery.

An appeal begins Monday before a panel of three judges who will consider the merits of an earlier judicial decision that gave the lion's share of the art treasures to the gallery in Fredericton, where they have been since the 1950s and 60s.

The Beaverbrook U.K. Foundation, a charity established by Max Aitken, the first Lord Beaverbrook, states in its appeal documents that the evidence was not considered fairly and the law was not applied properly.

The foundation argues the art works, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are only on loan to the gallery created by Beaverbrook, a British newspaper tycoon who grew up in New Brunswick.

The gallery insists they were gifts.

Foundation lawyers have accused retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, the arbitrator in the original hearing, of being biased.

Among other things, they say they were outraged by Judge Cory's comparison between Lord Beaverbrook and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

"There is no justification for calling New Brunswick's and the gallery's greatest benefactor a 'con artist ' who committed a 'gargantuan fraud' and was comparable to Goebbles," states the foundation.

Foundation lawyers state that Judge Cory's demeaning comments undermined the charity's belief that he would conduct proceedings in an even-handed fashion.

But Larry Lowenstein, lawyer for the gallery, countered in his documents that the allegations by the foundation about Judge Cory are unfounded and offensive.

"This is the ultimate allegation of sour grapes," states the gallery's response to the appeal.

The Beaverbrook Art Gallery, which sits in downtown Fredericton, contends the masterpieces in question were gifts from Beaverbrook to the people of his home province, not loans.

Judge Cory awarded 85 of 133 disputed pieces to the gallery following arbitration proceedings that spanned seven weeks in 2006 and 2007.

The gallery's two most-prized possessions - paintings by William Turner and Lucien Freud valued at a combined $30-million - were included in the gallery's settlement.

Judge Cory also ordered the foundation to reimburse the gallery $4.8-million in legal costs, the largest award of its kind in Canadian history.

That money has not been paid, pending the appeal.

The foundation, whose directors include Beaverbrook grandson Max Aitken III, has spent millions of dollars on its fight to possess the art treasures and on renovations to Beaverbrook's mansion in England, Cherkley Court, where it would like to display at least some of the disputed art.

Two weeks have been set aside for the appeal at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, but lawyers involved in the case do not expect arguments to take that long.

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