The families of an elderly couple found dead at home are locked in a highly unusual £300,000 battle over their inheritance - with a judge being asked to decide who died first.

John and Ann Scarle - who each had children from previous marriages - were both found dead from hypothermia after police were called by worried neighbours to their home, in Eastwood Road, Leigh, in October 2016.

No one knows precisely how the tragedy happened, but in a battle centred around a little used 100-year-old law, their two families are now at war over who inherits the house.

The family of the longest-surviving is set to inherit the £280,000 house lock, stock and barrel - with their step-siblings getting nothing, the High Court heard.

It is the first case of its kind since the 1950s, with the most famous similar case dating back to the Battle of Britain, when a family was obliterated by the same bomb.

John Scarle’s daughter, Anna Winter, insists that her step-mum probably died first, which would mean her dad briefly inherited his wife’s share of the house when she died, and then passed it to his daughter when he succumbed.

But Deborah Cutler, daughter of Ann Scarle, claims the order of deaths cannot be determined and that the “legal presumption” is that her stepdad - the older of the couple - died first, meaning she and her brother, Andre Farley, should get the house.

Mrs Cutler’s barrister, James Weale, told Judge Phillip Kramer: “The events which took place between 3/4 October and 11 October 2016 are unlikely ever to be known.

“The most that one can do is speculate as to what might have happened.”

“None of the experts [were] able to express any view as to even the approximate date - let alone time - of the death of either of John or Ann.”

The couple began their relationship in 1983 and bought their Eastwood Road home in 1988 using the proceeds of sale of Mrs Scarle’s house in Westcliff Park Drive, in Westcliff.

Despite being ten years older, Mr Scarle, who died at 79, was his wife’s full-time carer during the last decades of their life after she suffered a stroke in 1998.

Mrs Scarle, who was 69 when she died, required a mobility aid to walk around inside and a wheelchair when outdoors, whereas her husband had no problems getting around the house.

Mr Scarle was last seen on October 3 or 4, 2016, when he spoke to a neighbour, saying he was “getting the car ready for Ann”, suggesting both were still alive at that point, said Mr Weale.

They were found dead of hypothermia on the evening of October 11, with the property in disarray. It had been targeted by vandals or burglars, with windows broken and a door left ajar.

Mr Weale said it is likely that at least one of them was alive on October 7 - the date of their 26th wedding anniversary - because a card sent by Mrs Cutler was found opened.

But he said there was no evidence on which it could safely be concluded which of the tragic pair succumbed to hypothermia first.

He added: “There is no direct evidence from any witness which sheds any light on the date or time on which either John or Ann died.

“As a consequence, such a determination is an inherently speculative exercise which involves weighing uncertain circumstantial evidence against uncertain pathological evidence.”

For Mrs Winter’s barrister Amrik Wahiwala said the evidence showed “on the balance of probabilities” it was Mrs Scarle who died first, arguing the state of her body when police found the couple suggested that she had been dead longest.

However, Mr Weale argued even if it could be shown that Mrs Scarle “probably” died first, that is not enough to enable Mr Scarle’s family to inherit. The presumption that the oldest died first under the Law of Property Act 1925 is there to provide a solution in cases where it is “uncertain” who survived longest, he said.

Mrs Winter would have to show it is “beyond reasonable doubt” that Mrs Scarle died first in order to inherit.

Mr Weale added there would need to be “clear, reliable and compelling evidence” to prove that and the medical evidence “does not come close to supporting such a conclusion”.

The judge has reserved his ruling on the dispute until a later date.