Rinehart saga larger than life

When three of Gina Rinehart's four children launched legal action against their mother on September 5, 2011, over the multi-billion dollar family trust, the passing of the Hancock empire to the third generation was put firmly on the public agenda.

When three of Gina Rinehart's four children launched legal action against their mother on September 5, 2011, over the multi-billion dollar family trust, the passing of the Hancock empire to the third generation was put firmly on the public agenda.

The fight over the family fortune - which is now estimated to be worth more than $20 billion - had come full circle.

Rinehart's children were fighting her over what they believe is their rightful inheritance, just as she had fought her father, Lang Hancock, in the mid 1980s over what she believed was hers.

The youngest sibling, Ginia, opted to side with her mother, a decision that ripped the family to shreds and added to the bad blood boiling away for years.

The other three children, Hope, Bianca and John, sought to have their mother removed as trustee, claiming "deceptive, manipulative and disgraceful conduct" regarding her management of the Hope Margaret Hancock Trust.

The trust was set up in 1988 to hold the shares their grandfather and grandmother had left to them. It currently holds just under 25 per cent of Hancock Prospecting, which includes a 50 per cent stake in the iron ore company Hope Downs.

Gina became trustee of the discretionary trust when her father died in March 1992.

It was set to vest in September 2011, when Ginia turned 25.

As trustee, Gina has asked the children to sign various deeds that have limited what they can say and do. The deeds effectively bound and gagged the four children from talking to the media or saying anything that would embarrass Gina or challenge her authority as head of the family trust.

The deeds also required all their disputes be settled confidentially and through mediation and that they had to enter pre-nuptial agreements to ensure ownership and control of their shares in Hancock Prospecting remain with Gina's lineal descendants or Gina.

Any breaches of the deed would result in loss of access to trust income.

John hasn't received any trust funds for almost a decade - he failed in a bid to remove his mother as trustee in 2005 then called a truce with her in 2007 - and Hope and Bianca were cut off after they filed legal action 18 months ago.

Since legal action was launched on September 5, 2011, all three children have fought to pay their legal bills. They have taken loans from high net wealth individuals, sold assets, used savings and income to fund the expensive legal costs which cost $100,000 a month.

Hope has struggled more than the others and finally called it a day in December after reportedly splitting with her husband, Ryan Welker, as the financial and family stresses mounted.

They had met in London and married in 2005.

Ryan had then worked for Rio Tinto before becoming a consultant for Hancock Prospecting and a director of Mineral Resources.

By 2009 he was the new golden boy after John had fallen out with his mother years before - no longer the anointed successor - followed by Bianca, who had also been a successor but decided to move to Darwin after getting married.

Gina had a falling out with Ryan and emails released as part of the court battle reveal she believed he played a big part in her children's action against her.

In one email she wrote to John: "John, stop the nonsense. You are always saying you want a leadership role, but very sadly in the past you have taken the wrong directions.

"You are now, however, 35 and the eldest of the children.

"Please set a positive example that you will be acting in the interest of the company group and the family ... Please use your intelligence John to good effect, develop a positive leadership role, sign the deed and don't be talked by a 29-year-old into assisting his [Ryan Welker's] ill-conceived and dangerous path ... Mother."

In an email Welker wrote to his mother-in-law on September 29, 2011, in relation to his role as a director of Mineral Resources, he said: "Your employees have made it clear that I have no future with Hancock Prospecting itself and I accept that you have no confidence in my abilities even though I maintain that I have always acted and will continue to act in the best interest of the company and all of its shareholders.

"You also continue to insist that I have some role in the continuing court action against you.

"I have no personal claim against you; Hope, Bianca and John can withdraw the action whenever they so choose irrespective of my feelings on the matter.

"I will continue to support my family, including John and Bianca - even Ginia if she so chooses - to do what I believe is morally and ethically correct, even if that means you and I are in personal conflict for the rest of our lives." Gina was unavailable for comment.

Eight days later Mineral Resources announced that he had resigned due to "business interests".

He had been asked the day before by the executive director Chris Ellison to resign due to "serious heat from HPPL". Ellison was unavailable for comment.

It was a stressful time for Ryan and Hope and a big blow to lose his directorship at Mineral Resources. During the same period Hope was receiving letters from her mother's friends, including Barnaby Joyce and Gloria Schultz, asking her to stop the action against her mother.

For Ryan's part, he fought hard to stay on the board of Mineral Resources, including getting support from the board, as well as contacting his mother-in-law.

Finances were always an issue. Apart from their initial contribution at the start of the court battle, where they used family trust savings then sold clothes and a watch on ebay, Hope and Ryan struggled financially to live in New York with two children.

The children had considered litigation funding, which would have paid their legal costs and covered any costs if they had lost the case, but an agreement could not be reached on the size of the success fees.

After declining litigation funding, times got tougher.

Most of the legal funding has come from Bianca and John, who has been reported to have sourced money from a combination of friends and loans from high net worth individuals in Australia and Hong Kong.

Hope and Ryan are understood to have split but continue to live in New York with her two children.

A source said Hope has no immediate plans to come home. She might have settled with her mother but her relationship would never be the same.

Nor will her relationship with her sister Ginia, who sided with their mother and has been receiving regular income since.

Sources said 26-year-old Hope had asked for financial help from Ginia but had been denied it as long as she was in legal battle with her mother. Hope was unavailable to comment.

A source close to the family said: "Two down, two to go," referring to the fact that Gina now had two children fighting to remove her as trustee instead of three.

There is a long way to go in the Rinehart battle. A directions hearing is set for March 12 and unless she reaches a settlement with her other two children, the case will be heard later this year.

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