The leading campaigner against Skye Bridge tolls, Robbie the Pict, spent his 50th birthday behind bars yesterday after being arrested during a demonstration.
The SKAT legal committee chief was taken to Dingwall police station on Saturday. He had been picked up on a warrant for non-appearance in connection with a careless-driving charge and three charges of not paying bridge tolls.
The move came during some of the most bad tempered exchanges yet seen at the bridge between police and members of SKAT. It prompted complaints about police behaviour.
Robbie's wife Stella said the whole experience had been terrible. "The police stepped rightover the line, they were rough even with my 12-year old daughter, Zoe", she said. "I also think they were really sneaky the way they lifted Robbie. They did not even produce the warrant for his arrest. There were warrants out against a lot of people at the bridge demo, but Robbie was the one they were out to get. They did not ask anyone to move. They just hustled everyone, pushing them about, even kids."
One bystander, Cromarty accountant Robert Stewart, said the scenes reminded him more of Northern Ireland that the Highlands. "I actually saw at least three men being brutally manhandled by police behind a car", he said. "A few of us who had paid to cross the bridge stopped to ask what was going on and were told that Robbie the Pict had been arrested."
SKAT have always said up till that moment their relations with the police had been cordial by this incident had changed that.
"To my mind the police were violent, I have never seen anything like it before. I was very disturbed. Only minutes before, a happy crowd had been singing Happy Birthday to Robbie."
SKAT general secretary Myrna Scott Moncrieff claimed yesterday there had been a clear change of attitude on the part of the police after Friday s ruling by three Appeal Court judges that it was a criminal offence for drivers not to pay. When word of Robbie's arrest spread, about 50 people turned up at the bridge. There were scenes of confusion as they blocked the road in front of and behind a police car attempting to take Robbie to Dingwall.
"I couldn't believe it was me sitting in the road", said Mrs Scott Moncrieff. "They solved the problem by appearing with another car containing another man being taken to Dingwall. They transferred Robbie to it and about 10 minutes later we felt we had to let it go. The feeling is growing we have to go to Europe now on the restriction of movement. At the end of the day, we had a situation where three judges have effectively done the job of Parliament by rewriting law. But it is a bad law. It may be legal, but it is not right, and we shall continue to fight it."
The behaviour of police also came under fire from three women SKAT supporters who visited Robbie the Pict with a birthday cake in prison in Dingwall yesterday. Lorraine Mann, journalist Lesley Riddoch and councillor Margaret Patterson had called with the cake to sing Happy Birthday and wish the anti-toll activist well. Mrs Mann complained that they were allowed in only one at a time. Robbie was not allowed to keep the cake.
Robbie is expected to appear before Dingwall Sheriff Court this morning.
** UPDATE ** Robbie was released on bail - however part of his bail agreement was that he had to resign as Law Advisor for SKAT!! **
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1997.
Most recent revision, 8 August 1997.