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SKAT Newsletter November 1997

Editorial Rants

And the battle still goes on. The latest wrangle to hit the SKAT campaign is the submission of bogus assignations VIA Hingston and the Dingwall court. Is there no end to the establishment's deviousness? The whole thing is a stitch up and they are getting short of thread. A recent demo has once again shown that the operating company has no authority to charge toll and the police are helping them. It is ironic to see on the back of a panda car "serving the community" whereas in reality the Constabulary are unwittingly serving potential criminals. It recently transpired that the Fiscal in Dingwall gave instructions to the Police not to take any complaints against the Skye Bridge Tolls regime. Can he say this? No. Should the Chief Inspector allow this to happen? No. And so we can go on for a very long time. The Police and Legal system have a duty to protect the community. Not the rich companies and the politicians.

We are delighted to have Sligachan Hotel sponsoring this months issue of The News - many thanks boys & girls.

For those technically minded supporters you can read the SKAT News on the Internet. The web page is http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/ray_shields/skat.htm and the E-mail address is skat@most-wanted.com. If you have any information, news or comments for SKAT you can Email us or write to Drew Millar, PO Box SKAT, Portree.

PS has anybody seen any of uncle Donald's reduced price bridge tickets yet?

 

A Summary of the Year

By the vice convener.

When SKAT started over two years ago I don't think any of us realised what a struggle we would have to rid the bridge of these tolls. During the past twelve months there have been many ups and downs both politically and in the courts. If any of us had thought that we could secure justice through the Scottish Legal system, I am sure by now they are disappointed. Our experience in the courts has been an education to us all and now many of us appreciate why there have been so many miscarriages of justice in the past. Probably the highlight of the campaign was that day in July when Jimmy Fraser decided in our favour, using the now famous phrase - "The law should say what it means and mean what it says"! The Crown, he believed, was unable to prove who was liable to pay the toll because the legislation was not specific on the matter. Surprise, surprise, the Crown appeals and the appeal was heard in the High Court in (a record-breaking) twelve days. I understand that this represents the quickest processing of an appeal. Before this the quickest from trial to appeal was one month. And guess what ... the Law Lords over-ruled Jimmy - but it was sinister in that the Crown decided not to continue with the prosecution of Irene and me, knowing full well that the judgement was dodgy and could come under closer scrutiny the second time round. Hugh (Mac) is appealing on a very similar point and the Crown might yet get it's come-uppance. Sadly all the appeals we have in progress are taking an extra-ordinarily long time. I think it surprised many people that the Crown appear to have "pulled rabbit out of a hat" at the eleventh hour last Tuesday in an attempt to prove that the assignation of the right to collect tolls from the Skye Bridge Ltd. to Miller Civil Engineering. They may have won that battle, but the war is still raging, particularly over this issue. There are political issues in the pipeline and they could yet embarrass the Government and, for example we look forward to the meeting of the Public Accounts Committee on the 17th December. Over that past year the strains of working together as a tight-knit group have manifest themselves on a few occasions. This is only to be expected in a group which has been together so long. But I hope that we can all pull together on this final stretch - after all we all have the same objective view - so let's get there together. There are many people to whom thanks should go for their efforts over the last year. Drew Millar, Myrna Scott-Moncrieff, John Campbell, Ron Shapland, Alex Smith, Robbie the Pict, The Press and the membership in general.

 

AGM

The SKAT AGM took place on Saturday 8th November. A lively debate took place and the following posts were filled

Chairman - Drew Millar

Vice-Chairman - Alasdair Maclean

Treasurer - Brian Forehand

Press Secretary - Cailean Maclean

Events Secretary - Robbie Cormack

The Legal & Political posts have yet to be filled. Thanks to all who attended.

 

Demo News

Saturday the 1st of November saw the resumption of demonstrations on the bridge after some 2.5 months since the last organised protests. The aim of the demonstration was simple: to question the authority of the operating company to charge tolls especially as there was now no alternative route, however long, due to the winter suspension of the Mallaig-Armadale and the Glenelg vehicle ferries.

First in the queue from the Skye side was Drew and from the Kyle side Andy, both quite willing to pay the toll but only when they were shown satisfactory documentary evidence that Skye Bridge Ltd. and their sub-contractor Miller Civil Engineering had the right to take money from motorists. The private security firm was waiting - ie HM Constabulary - in their droves which was strange since what was being done was essentially a civil matter. Both front men were told if they did not pay the toll they would be charged with obstruction but when Drew tried to put in a complaint that there was an illegal operation being carried out at the bridge, the Police refused to take it. Meanwhile, paying motorists were being filtered past and put through the wide lane. Others seeking proper authorisation by the bridge company were simply left and were not permitted forward.

Presently, Drew turned round after not being given passage allowing others to come forward. After a while, most people withdrew back to Skye, with Andy holding his position being more or less ignored by the Police. On regrouping, an entourage once again came over the bridge with some brave souls in front who completely blocked both lanes of traffic for a time taking the Police completely by surprise. They eventually freed up the oncoming lane but it took a while to free up the Skyeward lane from protesters.

After about 4.5 hours waiting, the Police stated they were going to break Andy's window and remove him from the car at which point he voluntarily left the car and was carted off to Dingwall under arrest with charges of obstruction, not obeying a police order and preventing the police in their duties. Another driver behind Andy who, had been waiting patiently and never asked to use the wide lane, then moved forward. After a brief exchange of words he made the point he was not happy at being kept waiting and then refused free passage especially as the barrier had mysteriously come off. With no barrier, a long delay, and no evidence of the right to charge the toll the driver turned round and went back to Kyle to put a complaint to the Chief Inspector. He returned, still unhappy and after some more altercation was forced to pay to get back onto Skye.

If the police were doing their duties they would be taking valid complaints from the public against a probable illegal operation. They would also not try and make protesters feel guilty by saying there were sick people in cars behind when they could use the wide lane for passage. No protester would stop this. Drew proved that the Police aren't (or aren't allowed to be) interested. Andy has a reasonable case against his charges and has been in touch with Civil Liberties for assistance. Incidentally he was let out of Dingwall clink the next day possibly because he was having back problems however his wife had to travel all the way from Uig, Skye to pick him up.

A big thanks from the organisers to all who took part, supported, had picnics beside the booths (in what is, let's face it, a public park), and the press and we hope to see you all soon at the next one!

 

A Community Buyout?

Towards the end of September a proposal was put to SKAT that we should investigate a community buyout of the Concession on the Skye Bridge. A letter was faxed to Mr Skip McMullan (Bank of America) inquiring as to whether such a buyout was feasible and, if so, when would the Bank of America be in a position to advise us of the sum required. Our letter was passed on to Mr Ewan Donaldson, Company Secretary of Skye Bridge Ltd who replied as follows:

"Mr Skip McMullan passed me a copy of your letter dated 3rd October regarding the feasibility of a purchase by the Community of the Skye Bridge Concession."

"The Concession, which was granted by the Secretary of State for Scotland to Skye Bridge Ltd, assigns to Skye Bridge Ltd the right inter alia to charge and collect tolls in respect of tolled traffic using the crossing. Skye Bridge Ltd is also required, inter alia, to operate and maintain the crossing. Under the terms of the various agreements that the company has with it's lenders, the company is prevented from assigning or selling it's rights under the Concession Agreement, and the Shareholders from selling their equity interests in the company. Furthermore, any assignation or sale of rights under the Concession Agreement would also be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State for Scotland. As a practical matter, therefore, a buyout of the Concession would be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve and certainly would involve the repayment of all the company's outstanding debts."

The interesting thing about his reply is that he is admitting that Skye Bridge Ltd cannot assign it's rights under the various agreements without the authority of the Secretary of State for Scotland.

Why then are the employees of Miller Civil Engineering (a dormant company) collecting tolls?

So matters can progress, SKAT have now written to Ewan Donaldson asking for a list of all the lenders and outstanding debts. We await his reply with interest!

 

A Wrongful Arrest

After taking a Solicitor's advice on the New Roads & Street Works Act 1991, SKAT protestor Robert Stewart went to the Skye Bridge Toll Booth on Saturday 8th of November at 3.45pm and issued the notice below to the man in the toll booth

I protested that he was committing a criminal offence and demanded that he remove the obstacle to my freedom to proceed about my lawful business. He responded by telling me that, if I refused to pay the toll, he would call the Police. I replied that under the terms of section 36(2)(d) of the act, I was not obliged to pay the toll and offered him a copy of the act to show him. the section that deals with disabled drivers. He threw this back at me saying he was not going to debate legal issues and directed me to wait in the "wide load" side lane whilst he called the Police. He returned saying the Police were coming down from Portree. It would take about an hour. I told him I was going back into Kyle to get a cup of coffee meantime. He protested saying I couldn't do this (so they think they have powers of custody now? - Ed) but I said I could and I did, returning at 4.30pm.

At 4.40pm, two policemen arrived from Portree. I advised them that I wished to report a criminal offence taking place under Section 37(4) of the New Roads & Street Works Act 1991. I was told me that the Police had instructions from the Procurator Fiscal not to take complaints about the Toll Booth and advised me to see a solicitor. I replied that this was not a civil matter but a criminal matter and that it was his legal obligation to investigate.

This was ignored and one told me that, if I refused to pay or refuse to turn away from the toll booth, he would charge me with obstruction. I replied that I was not refusing to pay the toll as, under the terms of the act I was not obliged to pay and, as regards obstruction, I had parked in the "wide load" lane at the direct instruction of the man in the booth. There was no actual obstruction to vehicles on the highway going through the barrier.

He then told me that he was booking me for obstruction and started taking my details. He asked me my name. "Robert Stewart, what's yours?", I replied.

"You don't need my name you've got my number" came the reply. "Have you any middle names?"

I decided it was time to play him at his own game ."You don't need that you've got my number", I said pointing in the direction of the number plate. Ignoring this, I was asked "Date of birth?"

"What's yours?". Thus ended the personal details.

As he was writing my car registration number down, I appealed to the second policeman that they were ignoring my complaint about a criminal offence being carried out by the man in the booth I also asked him to bear witness to the fact that I had stated, under the terms of the Act, I was not obliged to pay the toll. He said he would.

At this point the first angrily interrupted and told me "I've heard enough of this crap. You are under arrest." He pulled open the car door and placed handcuffs on my wrists and demanded that I get out of the car. I started to protest that I was unable to do so (due to my disability) but he wouldn't listen and ignoring my explanation, started to manhandle me out of the car whilst asking for assistance from his pal.

At this point the second must have heard what I said, or noticed my legs were paralysed and said "This man is disabled." Realising his mistake, I was lifted back into my seat and the handcuffs were unlocked and allowed over the bridge.

I was sharply chastised for wasting Police time, however they never once asked what my basis for not paying was. I'm, however, in the dark as to whether I am still under arrest as I was certainly never "un-arrested"! Time will tell.

 

The (other) Road to the Isle

By a daily crosser. We are currently awaiting a reply from Donald Dewar to the apparently simple question: "Where is the alternative route to Skye?"

Now I know this may seem a strange, even naive, question to be posing two years into the campaign but my doing so was prompted by a recent incident at the bridge which I use daily.

Although I travel to work on the mainland daily, I wasn't actually driving the day a census took place a couple of weeks ago. However, my colleague who was, complied with the instructions of two policemen on duty and pulled over into the coned-off section of the approach road.

There, his car was approached by one of several figures, who were standing around, suitably clad in flourescent garb. This young man introduced himself as a "representative of the Scottish Office" and as such wanted to ask a few questions which would not take long.

My colleague obligingly answered the straightforward - if intrusive - questions, pertaining to where he had come from and why he had been there; where was he going and why; how often did he use the bridge and did he use the discount vouchers for his journeys?

However the final question was somewhat unexpected and the ensuing conversation went a bit like this:

"Do you always use this crossing to get to the mainland?"

"I've no option."

"Do you use an alternative route?"

"There is no alternative route."

"Yes there is."

"No there isn't."

"Yes there is."

"Where?"

"Well, there's the ferry down there..," announced the young man triumphantly, waving his arm vaguely in the direction of Skye.

"There is no alternative!" interrupted the driver, whose patience was by now wearing a bit thin.

"There is ....," began the valiant representative again

"There is no alternative route!", I finally joined in, hoping that maybe two voices would be better than one.

We were allowed to carry on our journey but I couldn't help feeling that his puzzled expression was more to do with his views on our sanity than on his possibly being wrong on this matter.

Indeed, I began to question my own sanity, though soon reassured myself that neither Glenelg nor Armadale was a feasible option - well not in October at any rate - for my daily trip! However, my complacency was short lived. On recounting this tale to some friends, one immediately pointed out the obvious: the chap must have meant that we could go by Tarbert! Now why didn't I think of that?

Still, we'll have to wait and see if this is the alternative route alluded to by Mr Dewar's "representative". Maybe there is yet another route I hadn't thought of...

 

Political Comment

At the start of November Charles Kennedy was quizzing the Secretary of State for Scotland, Donald Dewar, on his progress in getting the reduced price bridge tickets. Mr Dewar admitted he was "having difficulty" in achieving this but hoped it would be along as soon as possible. There was also comment that it was one of the first PFIs and a lot had been learnt since. Cold comfort indeed for the bridge users left with the mess. Charlie then stood up and commented that the whole thing "stinks both politically and commercially" and was greeted with some agreement from others in the house.

The political scene was fairly quiet with all concerned waiting for the public accounts committee meeting to discuss the Audit Commission Report which was published, curiously enough, just after the general election in May. It was to have taken place in November and was then postponed by a month till 17th December. There was, however, a surprise announcement and the MPs involved were told on Friday 14th November that the meeting was to take place the following Monday. SKAT had no idea of this happening as it was hoped to send some delegates down to lobby MPs and monitor it's progress.

The outcome seems to have been a fairly predictable one with the participating MPs - even Tory ones - shocked at the mishandling of the situation by the Scottish Office and disgusted at the amount that the developers are being allowed to cream off the Toll Payer. To quote Christopher Leslie, MP, "It is a licence to print money". Philip Hope, Corby, said "The developer is laughing all the way to the bank as are the equity investors who are looking forward to their windfall profits". And these profits stand to be considerable as some 37million if they are allowed to proceed.

All MPs were in unison over the situation, however, there seemed to be no reports as to what they intend to do about it. SKAT would urge all readers to write their MPs and ask them what they intend to do. After all, it has been politically discussed so now they have no excuse to stand still on the matter.

 

999 Club

October's 999 Club draw took place at the weekly meeting in Kyleakin on Saturday 1st November after the demo.

The results were : 100-no 286, Sleat, 50-no 279, Breakish, 20 no 6, Uig, 10-no 293, Plockton and 10-no 9, Kyleakin.

The draw is a source of income for SKAT and the odds of winning are far greater than the national lottery so the 999 Club organisers would urge each competitor to introduce perhaps just one other person thereby increasing SKAT's income and increasing the prizes!

 

Legal Section

As many readers may well be aware the commercial in confidence documents, which were for so long unavailable to protestors, were leaked to Robbie the Pict some time ago. This gave much useful information to the "legal eagles" but unfortunately it was not possible to use them in court. The question of no authority to collect was to be used in court but without the official documentation this could not be achieved. Faxed & leaked material is not admissible. An application was, therefor, made to the High Court in Edinburgh to have the section concerning the collection of tolls and, more importantly, prohibiting it's sub contracting, disclosed officially. On the day of the proceedings Miller's QC argued that the required section was "commercially sensitive". Defence knew differently and showed his lordship the exact text sought. His Lordship saw there was nothing "Commercially Sensitive" in the text and told Millers gang to "reconsider their position"; a very grave statement in the High Court. They did indeed "reconsider their position" but were pathetic enough to insist that the preceding and following texts around that which was needed were to be blocked out! No matter - a victory to The People.

The ritual slaughter was then to have recommenced the following Tuesday with some of the remaining protesters who had not been "pardoned" by the fiscal.

In court, the legal arguments in defence included no authority to collect there being no statutory instrument in place with exhibit "A" being the prize from the previous week. Before proceedings got underway Hingston pulled out his "Joker" - a document rushed up from the Scottish Office purporting to be Miller Civil Engineering's right to collect. It was debated for a time in court and the trials went ahead on the assumption that this was a valid document leaving the "guilty" with 50 a shot on completion. That's 500 for Drew alone.

The fiscals "Joker" was given close inspection as it's validity was doubted and it was shown to some legal experts including Professor of Law, Robert Black, who proclaimed that it was "utter rubbish" being copies of five pages taken from the development agreement for the bridge. This had various signatures on it but these were to do with the bridge's creation and nothing to do with the toll collecting. The document also expired at the opening of the bridge in October 1995. There has also been an admission by the lawyers, acting for Miller Civil Engineering, who drew up the so-called right to charge. They say that this document does not empower MCE to charge tolls and that it is a "very minor" and "peripheral" document.

Despite this, Hingston is still prosecuting on the strength of it but there has been a change with Sheriff James Penman taking the bench which, by now, must be well worn to Jimmy's seat.

Meanwhile, bully boy tactics were being employed by sending two members of the Police all the way to Coventry to apprehend a very bemused Tom Macallister. He had received a letter saying his charges had been dropped and so quite happily thought this was all charges. A different set were, unfortunately, pending which never reached him; hence sending in the heavies. Have the Northern Constabulary endless resources?

Today (20th November) Robbie the Pict was in the High Court challenging the validity of the scheme on various points including: the scheme was not properly started, the question of assignation and it did not meet all the legal requirements. He is reported to have had a good day but their lordships were unfortunately deferring judgement. As we go to the press we do not have any idea of how long this deferral will be but will include a full report in the next News.

(c) SKAT, 1997

Last revision 13 March 1998