A wife who divorced a severely wounded soldier after ‘wasting’ a large part of his £1 million compensation has lost her legal battle to get her hands on what was left of the cash.
Simon Vaughan, 31, was badly brain damaged and unable to walk or speak properly after the vehicle he was travelling in was blown up by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2008.
He received more than £1 million in compensation from the Ministry of Defence, which was intended to pay for his long-term care.
But the money was paid into a joint bank account and hundreds of thousands wasted when his wife Donna Vaughan, mother of their two children, bought a family home without bothering to get a survey.
In his ruling yesterday, District Judge Richard Chapman was critical of a series of financial decisions taken by Mrs Vaughan.
Judge Chapman said: “In managing the one million pounds or so that came under her control, Donna made some decisions that both in hindsight and at the time, she should not have made.”
He said the first of those was to buy the bungalow in Ercall Heath, near Newport in Shropshire, for £295,000 in cash without a survey. The house was structurally unsound for adaptation and had to be demolished and rebuilt at a cost of a further £300,000.
She had also failed to tell financial experts at the Ministry of Defence who had been assigned to her husband’s case of what she was planning.
The judge found she also ”failed to provide full and truthful information” when seeking grants and other sources of income for the family; and that Mrs Vaughan had ignored an offer of help from an MoD caseworker to manage the money properly including putting it in a trust fund.
Mrs Vaughan, mother of their two children, was seeking £185,000 out of just £200,000 that is now left. She was also demanding a stake in the specially-adapted bungalow in which Mr Vaughan lives with his mother.
Judge Chapman, however, ruled Mrs Vaughan was entitled to just under £85,000 to cover her legal fees and a further £10,000 in cash. Mr Vaughan was also ordered to pay off £30,000 on a mortgage on a second property that will transfer into Mrs Vaughan's ownership.
The ruling was welcomed by Mr Vaughan, who had been a lance corporal in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.
Mr Vaughan said: "It is as good as it can be given the law and I think the judge has been as fair as he could have been although I still find myself in a worrying position where my future is concerned.
"The judge had to make some difficult decisions and I would like to thank him for the decision he reached about my bungalow. I would like to say taking care of my children's needs was always my priority."
His lawyer Julian Ribet, of Levison Meltzer Pigott, one of the leading family law firms and which had taken on the case for free after learning of Mr Vaughan’s plight, said: “Today’s judgment is a very positive outcome for Simon.
“There was a very difficult balance for the Court to strike when considering each party’s competing ‘needs’; those of Simon’s wife and children on the one hand and, on the other, Simon and his needs going forward.
“The outcome means that... importantly the decision allows Simon to continue to lead his life with dignity and a degree of independence in the home which was specially constructed to meet his needs and with the remainder of his compensation monies available to him.”
Mr Vaughan’s mother Lynne Baugh, 53, now her son’s full time carer, had warned the MoD not to pay the money into a joint bank account he held with his wife in September 2009 because she feared it would be “wasted”.
Mrs Baugh had instead asked the MoD to appoint an independent trustee to look after Mr Vaughan’s compensation money.
At the time, Mr Vaughan was still in hospital and able to communicate only by blinking or else by basic hand signals.
“The MoD knew what state Simon was in so they should have automatically put trustees in place so that all of the decisions being made were not being made by Donna alone,” Mrs Baugh told The telegraph. “I voiced concerns to the MoD about Donna having full control over Simon’s compensation. The MoD did nothing.
“Now the divorce is over I can shout it from the roof tops. The MoD failed Simon - not in the care they provided for him once he was injured - but they failed him when they put that money in a joint account when they knew with his injuries he couldn’t deal with that money”
Mrs Baugh said of Mrs Vaughan’s divorce claim: “Donna’s demand for the money that was left was pretty incredible. That’s the best way I can describe it. Not only did she waste £600,000 on the house but then she wanted what was left.
“Simon needs that money. The NHS isn’t good enough for what he needs. He needs private physio, private hydrotherapy. The NHS will pay for maintenance work. Unfortunately the money isn’t there.”
But Mrs Baugh insisted she was not bitter towards her ex-daughter in law and had every sympathy for her.
“Nobody has ever ever said it wasn’t hard for Donna. I can’t imagine,” she said, “I know what I felt like as a mother, I don’t know how I would feel as his wife. She watched a 16-and-half stone, 6ft 3in ball of muscle be sent off to Afghanistan and he came back a broken man.
“I cannot imagine what she went through. She married one thing and ended up with something she hadn’t bargained for.”
John Jordan, who had been appointed as an adviser to Mrs Vaughan by the Army, had told the court that he had been kept in the dark about the purchase of and had “understood from Donna that Simon’s compensation monies had in fact been placed in a trust fund” when in fact they had not.
Mr and Mrs Vaughan married in July 2002 when Mrs Vaughan was heavily pregnant with their first child.
Mr Vaughan was serving in Helmand province when the vehicle he was travelling in was blown up on December 6 2008.
Army medics fought to keep him alive and his heart stopped beating at the scene of the attack starving his brain of oxygen. Mr Vaughan returned to Britain with a shattered pelvis, a broken back and collapsed lungs. Doctors were so convinced that he would not survive the journey home that he boarded a plane with an obituary pinned to his bag.
He remained in a coma for 44 days before begiining his long road to recovery.
In his 26-page ruling, Judge Chapman, although critical of Mrs Vaughan’s decisions, was “satisfied that at no time was it ever Donna’s intention to convert any of the monies paid to Simon for her own use to the exclusion of Simon’s benefit”.