SKAT 'victory' cannot help cause says fiscal

Article details courtesy of The Press and Journal

SKAT protesters are claiming a significant victory in their long-running battle against tolls after a High Court finding. But Dingwall procurator fiscal, David Hingston, has said the finding will not help them.

SKAT had petitioned the High Court in Edinburgh to force Miller Civil Engineering to release copies of concession and development agreements between the Scottish Office and the company.

They maintained the agreements would reveal that Miller was not properly and legally empowered to collect tolls. A copy of the concession agreement had already been leaked to SKAT. Because of this, they were able to quote the exact page numbers of the concession agreement which state that the concession holder does not have the right to pass on their toll collection powers.

The Judge, after reading the sections requested by SKAT suggested to Mr Robert Howie, advocate for the company, that he have an adjournment and reconsider. After a short break, he returned to court saying he agreed to hand over two clauses from the agreement to Mr Patrick Wheatley, SKAT's solicitor advocate. However, just to make sure that the demonstrators only got exactly what they asked for, the other subclauses on the page would be blanked out. The pages will be issued this coming Monday. In turn, Mr Wheatley agreed to drop the petition.

SKAT claims the handing over of the two clauses means they now have a defence in their next tolls challenge at Dingwall Sheriff Court on Tuesday, November 4.

On that date, half a dozen protestors will face charges alleging contraventions of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991. In their defence, they will seek to challenge the authority of witnesses for the Crown to collect and charge tolls on the Skye Bridge.

Evidence of authorisation to collect and charge tolls were said to be contained in Crown productions consisting of part of a Concessionaire Agreement and a Development Agreement between the Scottish Secretary and Skye Bridge Tolls Ltd.

Campaigner Robbie the Pict said the finding discredited the fundamental plank on which the procurator fiscal was depending to prosecute non-payers.

He said, "We have maintained all along that the operation and maintenance agreements between Skye Bridge and Miller Civil Engineering do not constitute a lawful assignation of the right to collect tolls."

"We have also drawn attention to the fact that sub-contracting of the rights is prohibited. The pages that were ordered to be disclosed confirm this. "

"We are aware by checking with the Registrar of Statutory Instruments that there is no assignation in favour of Miller Civil Engineering authorising them to collect tolls. "

Dingwall fiscal David Hingston said the Crown had consistently argued that there had been no assignation by Skye Bridge Tolls Ltd to Miller Civil Engineering and the clauses were thus irrelevant. If this is the case, WHY is it employees of Miller Civil Engineering are the people who collect the tolls at the bridge???

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Copyright Ray Shields, 1997.

Most recent revision, 13 March 1998