Three diehard Skye Bridge anti-toll protesters are this morning preparing to argue their right to a trial, despite a sheriff's earlier hint that he was minded to desert the cases against them.
At hearings last month and in January, Sheriff James Fraser said charges of non-payment of tolls against Robbie the Pict, Highland councillor Drew Millar and Bettyhill schoolteacher John Milligan could be dropped in the interests of justice because of the time taken to bring them to court.
But the three, appearing at Dingwall Sheriff Court, insisted on going to trial. They argued that this was the only way they could draw attention to the financing of the Skye Bridge. The outstanding cases against Mr Pict, Mr Millar and Mr Milligan were first called in the summer of 1997.
Their trials were adjourned on several occasions because of long delays involving appeals on complex legal issues to the High Court in Edinburgh, which were only ruled on in December, 1999.
Only one other protester is now due to stand trial. Alex Smith, 72, is unaware that his case has been called again, as he is on an extended holiday with relatives in Australia. Sheriff Fraser has declined to issue a warrant for his arrest.
All other outstanding charges against non-payers have long since been dropped after the Crown Office instructed Dingwall procurator fiscal David Hingston to use his discretion in such cases.
Mr Pict said yesterday: "If the Sheriff orders desertion, there is only one decent path for Scottish Secretary John Reid - he must order an immediate inquiry into why the public are paying over £120 million for a £12 million road scheme."
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 2000.
Most recent revision, 25 March 2000