SKAT NEWS February 1999
Happy New Year to all our Skat Friends
Well folks here we are only one month into 1999 and already we have seen the question of the Skye Bridge being raised in the House of Commons. Mr. Charles Kennedy MP spoke out well on behalf of his constituents. There is so much going on that it is difficult to keep pace with all the news I will let the articles speak for themselves.
Comments From Our Chairman
There has certainly been plenty happening since our last edition hit the streets. Somebody once said that if you have right on your side no matter what they throw at you eventually right will succeed. Well they are certainly throwing plenty of something, unfortunately none of it is sticking there have been times during the last few years when it seemed that the campaign was dead in the water, then all of a sudden something would turn up and on we would go. Over the last few months however the campaign just seemed to get stronger and stronger. The telling factor is the quality of the reply from the Scottish Office. We are confident that the proper procedures have been followed, if that's the best they can come up with then we definitely have then on the run.
The debate on the P.A.C. report was one of the most significant moments in our fights so far; the quality of our MP slamming of the bridge project was impressive to say the least. All his practice on the telly paid dividends. Hope we get the video soon, according to Prof. Beeb. It was the best speech by a highland MP in living memory. Well done Charles!
RtP has certainly been doing his bit to boost the sale of aspirin in the Edinburgh area surely by now all these civil incompetents should realise you can't Rodger the Pict.
The press conference last month was one of the best attended we have held, with all the main papers represented. The Pict was in magnificent form, going through everything in great detail in a language even I could understand. The most encouraging aspect was that even after all this time the press still came along in numbers and are still right behind us.
I put forward a motion to Highland Council, which will be on the agenda at the next meeting (25thFeb.) The motion called on the council to demand a public enquiry into the Skye Bridge and also to demand the immediate suspension of tolls in the interest of public safety.
This relates to the fact if the Assignation was not legal then the public does not know who is in fact responsible to look after their interests. I handed in the notice of motion with 40 signatories, which is more than half the number of members. Feb.25th could prove to be a very interesting meeting 10.3Oam
Plenty of seats... free admission !!!
SKAT Press Release January 21 1999
Scottish Office 'conspire to pervert course of justice'
During the recent volatile Public Accounts Committee debate in the Commons on the Skye Bridge, Charles Kennedy MP described Scottish Office staff dealing with road tolling as entirely implausible and guilty of Downright deception
Skat can now reveal to the public the extent to which these civil servants, acting with their counterparts in the Crown Office, have been parsimonious with the truth on three significant occasions, not only to the constituency MP but also to the very Courts of Law.
Crown prosecution evidence submitted by the Scottish Office to Dingwall Sheriff Court for the purpose of securing criminal convictions against no~payers included
1) A falsely represented Toll Order
2) A substituted civil contract
3) An artificially constructed 'written consent' by the Secretary of State.
1) The classification certificate belonging to the Toll Order, declaring it 'unpublished' had been withheld. The order was passed off as printed and sold. There is a statutory defence against being prosecuted on the basis of unpublished law.
2) The Assignation Statement did not appear with the Toll Order there is only a draft statement in existence. It is dated, unsigned and more importantly, untrue regarding the identity of the proposed Concessionaire. This being unlawful a civil contract was substituted and passed off to indicate a statutory assignation.
3) There is no assignation to the actual collectors. The Scottish Office substituted an old service contract, written up before the legislation governing tolling came into force. To subcontract in this way, even the Concession Agreement demands the Secretary of State's consent in writing. The statute demands an 'assignation'.
Robbie the Pict, SKAT's Legal Secretary said "When this spurious paperwork was first challenged in Dingwall Court, the Scottish Office, acting with their business partners Bank of America, faked up a Secretary of States 'written consent' using yet another civil contract."
(Copies of the Hansard debate are available from Skat.)
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Skat Press Release
We now have a copy of that document from which the four pages were photocopied and stapled together to be passed off to the Sheriff. "This is nothing short of conspiring to pervert the course of justice".
Scottish Office Ministers Henry McLeish, Calum Mac Donald and Secretary of State Donald Dewar have all joined in the protection of what are effectively felonious acts. All have defended the scheme and have written to Charles Kennedy MP stating that all the paperwork referred to is in order. The politically appointed Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, has acted similarly.
Skat convenor and highland Councillor Drew Millar said "This is absolutely disgraceful. Mr. Kennedy has agreed to forward the details to the Parliamentary Ombudsman who is the last line in political policing. If he does not clean house, the Scottish Office and its cronies are in Titanic trouble in the Courts of Law."
Comments in the press:
Charles Kennedy (HeraId/David Ross)
"I have received a request from Robbie the Pict that I refer his complaints against the Crown Office and the Scottish Office to the Ombudsman for investigation."
"I am only too happy to agree to this request. I think there is a strong case to be made that Government departments have not followed the statutory requirements so far as the tolling arrangements for the bridge are concerned."
"Many of my constituents have received criminal convictions for non-payment of tolls. Very many others have reluctantly concluded they have no option but to pay a very substantial toll to which they are strongly opposed. It is the least one can ask of the Government that they follow it's own legally laid down requirements."
Scottish Office (P & J Dawn Thompson 22/1/99)
Last night the Scottish Office defended itself against the allegations. A spokesman said " We have carried out all the proper procedures required by the 1984 Roads (Scotland) Act".
Crown Office (P & J same article)
A spokesman for the Crown Office said, "Since some appeal cases arising out of non-payment of tolls are outstanding and therefore matters are sub-judice, it would be inappropriate to comment".
Conflict of interest claim over bridge toll cases (Herald 4th Feb 99)
One of Scotland's most respected legal authorities believes that Scotland's most senior judge could have been compromised by a conflict of interest when hearing three Skye bridge campaigners cases in the appeal court.
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At the Skat demo on Saturday 28th November 1998 we were able to see 20 of Scotland's finest, brave policemen aged from early 20s to mid forties, all six feet and over, backed up by police dogs, with surveillance team posted on the view point above the toll booth ready to do battle with the dreaded SKAT demonstrators.
They were a fine group of policemen, their faces wet with the rain that beat down upon them, or was it perspiration at the thought of doing battle once again with SKAT. Some of the younger ones, not having faced SKAT, Looked a little apprehensive, not having been in the front line before and they'd heard stories of the SKAT battles from the older policemen, YES, stories that made them wake in the night
At high-noon the first of the cars appeared on the brow of the bridge, the policemen shuffled nervously and they braced themselves for the confrontations, knowing that most of the SKAT group were veterans of over three years of fighting. Wave after wave of cars came at them, they repelled them one after another saying "thank you for paying our wages, time- and -a -half on Saturday but if you don't turn round we will book you for obstruction" Some of the SKAT group stood their ground for a while but rather than fall on the swords of the police and knowing they would have to stand before Satan himself, and his sidekick Procurator Satan, they retreated some regrouping and going in again only to be rebuffed by this fine army of Scotland's finest policemen
The SKAT group left, downhearted but not beaten. It was then I noticed in the late sun, the glint of grey on the heads of the SKAT group, and the words from one of the ladies that will stay with me forever....
"BYE EILEEN, I'LL SEE YOU AT THE POST OFFICE ON PENSION DAY!!!!!!
Thank you SKAT for your perseverance.
On 28th November 1998 Protestors were once again on the Bridge, this time to challenge the law!!!!!
Fifty protestors attempted to evade payment of the toll, in breach of the 1991 New Roads and street works act, under which the tolls are collected. But, in line with instructions from Chief Constable Bill Robertson, the police would not use the act to charge protesters - and no arrests were made.
The object of the protest was to point out that the flaws in Section 38 of the act make it impractical and unlawful. Previously, the police had charged motorists refusing to pay the toll with obstruction. Protesters wanted the police to invoke Section 38 of the New Roads and Street Works Act 1991, under which the tolls are collected. Chief Constable Bill Robertson, who describes the Act in the P&J 30th Nov. as "impractical", has instructed police to charge protesters with obstruction stating that this is consistent with the "realistic practicalities of the situation".
The Skat crew drew attention to the fact that by attempting to evade payment of tolls, they were in fact allegedly committing an offence under 1991 Roads and Street Works Act. However each protester was instructed to U-turn or be charged with obstruction.
17th Dec 1998 Hugh MacIntyre (at very short notice) gets his day in the appeal court after waiting nearly two years! It was a bit of a mystery as to why Hugh was granted leave to appeal since his point was the same as that of Irene McGoogan and Alasdair MacLean who had claimed that the Toll Order did not specify exactly who was obliged to pay the toll. Sheriff Fraser had agreed with Irene that "the law must say what it means and mean what it says" and it just said the vehicle had to pay. However the Crown appealed the good sheriffs good sense and in only 10 days time Lord Rodger, remember that name, ruled that Sheriff Fraser was wrong.
He ruled that 'vehicle' actually meant 'driver of the vehicle'. Advocate Maggie Scott was engaged to defend Hugh's interests but when she saw the point of appeal she could not proceed because of the McGoogan ruling. However the Skat team doesn't know the proper rules, and Maggie was persuaded to shift the goalposts and ask for a 'continuation' to enable her to demonstrate to the court that the toll order had not in fact been published, a solid defence in law. Lord Rodger, who had been the Lord Advocate for the first 5 weeks of the toll period and who as Crown Prosecutor should have checked if the Order had been published, he immediately dismissed Hugh's appeal, denying any continuation.
Here is conflict of interest done properly! Not content with a display of bias, His Lordship then declared that due to pressure of outstanding appeals from persons in custody, the appeal by our Andrew McMorrine, due to be heard the next day was continued to a date to be determined on the court's motion and it was recommended that Andrew be given legal aid! Unfortunately Andrew had already set off for the capital on the 200 mile journey from his home in Skye!!!!!
RtP, being already in Edinburgh, attended the appeal court the following morning out of curiosity only to find the court was deserted but for one appeal
22ndJan1999 Rikki Peris trial for obstruction and refusing to obey an order from the police, Not wishing to waste any more time or money on the inevitable stitch-up Rikki went for a plea bargain. Probably because he wanted to say something in mitigation about thinking he had a civil right to ask potentially bogus workmen on the A87 to demonstrate their authority, Sheriff Fraser was not impressed and upped his fine to £100.
Robbie visited the Fiscal to lodge two formal complaints about the true nature of Crown Production 16 and the lack of a proper Assignation in favour of Skye Bridge Ltd. During their conversation it transpired that the 'certified true and complete copy' of the development agreement (cp2) which included 5 pages of (cp16) contained 80 pages in all and was incomplete, RtP produced an original version from the Scottish Office and pointed out to the Fiscal that the court had been short-changed by 15 pages... .Oops!
These, being the Actual Development agreement itself. The first 80 being only the bipartite 'bible of terms' between SO and Skye Bridge Ltd.
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House of Commons Debate 14th January 1999
On the Public Accounts Committee's report on the funding arrangements for the Skye Bridge.
It is interesting to note some of the comments made by Mr Charles Kennedy in this debate:
The Scottish Office Development Department's responses to the findings of the PAC report have been "casual in the extreme"
"I am not surprised that many of them are not exactly volunteering to come forward with their hands up and admit that they made a dog's breakfast of negotiating the contract."
"I am concerned that the civil servants who advised Ian Lang, Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Forsyth are, in large the same civil servants who are now advising the present Secretary of State"
"The history of the project goes back a long way. It covers the stewardships of Malcolm Rifkind, Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth as successive Secretaries of State, as well as that of the present incumbent of that office. The Public Accounts Committee rightly inquired into the background .The most telling conclusion of its generally damning report was that the terms on which the bridge was provided, including the real rate of return to equity investors in the project of 18.4 per cent. a year, were not determined completely. In a casino, 18.4 per cent is a pretty good rate of return if it has not been determined completely."
"The financial model shows the developers input for 1991 as £12.3million, whereas the audited accounts show the developers contribution for 1991 as £0.6million. In 1991-96, the financial model, which the NAO accepted, shows the costs for the same period as only £19.3million. If the model overplays the developers contribution, equally, it underplays the cost to the taxpayer. The model shows the taxpayer contribution for 1991-96 as £10.6million, whereas the actual contribution revealed in the accounts is £11.6million.
" The tolls are collected by Miller Civil Engineering. That company- I have tabled written questions about this, is apparently registered as dormant at Companies House. It collects tolls on behalf of MDJV, of which there is apparently no record at Companies house, on behalf of Skye Bridge Tolls Ltd, which is wholly owned by the Bank of America. Clause 23 of the concession agreement states that there will be no change in the financial arrangements without the written consent of the Secretary of State. No written consent has ever been produced in public at any of the legal hearings that have been taking place in Edinburgh. One can only assume that it does not exist."
"I commend this suggestion to the Minister- that, prior to the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, we need the Treasury to instigate a complete and through overhaul and independent investigation of this entire sorry and shabby tale"
Reply from the Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mrs. Barbara Roche): Re; Discussion of Skye Bridge
"I am absolutely confident that my right Hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has thoroughly considered the many points put to him by the Hon. Gentlemen. I understand the courts in Scotland have also considered various issues relating to procurement for the bridge.
I can tell the hon. Gentlemen that the lessons from the Skye Bridge project have already informed best practice guidance for subsequent projects. The Hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Inverness West, put several detailed points to me. I assure him that the government will respond to those in full".
Press Release 27th January 1999
Skye Bridge Toll Protestors say they are over the moon at the prospect of a giant piece of judicial skulduggery being the final nail in the coffin of the hated toll regime.
Reacting to news that the dual role played by the Lord Justice Rodger, was being viewed very critically in legal and political circles last night, Skat convenor, Drew Millar, said, "At long last all those people and groups who've supported us as individuals, and as occasion demanded in the past three and a half years, are now coming together as one to say, "This time it certainly is for real."
The group has been viewing with increasing amazement and barely concealed delight the public condemnation of the allegations that Lord Rodger broke all the rules by allowing himself to sit on the bench on three SKAT High Court Appeals when his previous office had, in October and November 1995, while he was Lord Advocate, been involved in initiating the prosecutions against the tolls no~payers. In one of these cases,
Portree Primary School janitor, Hugh MacIntyre, travelled all the way from his home in Portree to Edinburgh on 17th December 1998, was represented in Court by a QC, but was told by Lord Justice Rodger, the Presiding Judge, that he was not going to hear any evidence in the Appeal and immediately threw it out of court.
Experienced observers said last night that the treatment of Mr. MacIntyres case could shake the reputation of the Scottish Judicial system. "What makes this case so absolutely incredible", said Mr. Millar, "is that Hugh MacIntyre was one of the first people charged on the very first night of tolling on the Bridge. At the time Lord Rodger of Earlsferry was the man ultimately responsible for prosecutions in Scotland. We waited some months, challenging the Fiscal in Dingwall to tell us when we would get our day in court, and the only response we got was that Edinburgh had yet to decide. Well, Hugh was taken to court, found guilty, appealed and found himself in the Appeal Court in Edinburgh, and who should be sitting there in front of him heading the panel of three judges? None other than Scotland's Premier Judge, Lord Rodger of Earlsferry."
A leading Constitutional expert Rob Dunbar of Glasgow University's Law faculty said last night, that the case was very similar to a Belgian case in which the European Court of Human Rights had recently decided against the judicial system in that country as being prejudicial to the rights and liberties of citizens. SKAT says that it was no surprise to them that the Appeal was rejected, as were two others heard by Lord Rodgers.
Skye's MP Charles Kennedy, announcing that he is to table Commons' questions about the possibility of Lord Rodger being in a conflict of interest position, said "Clearly, there is a significant and justifiable public interest here following Lord Hoffman's position in the General Pinochet case in England." Mr. Kennedy said that it was central to the entire case against Skye Bridge Tolls protestors that any directions given to the Procurator Fiscal's Office in Dingwall be made public. For SKAT, Mr. Millar said, "To clear this foul-smelling air, that's the very least we need, but until they tell us the truth we will keep pushing because we know the position"
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More Court Capers
3 Dec 1998 RtP honours his three remaining bail orders and 'actually' turns up for a 'notional' trial. He seeks the leave of the court to show cause why he should be allowed to submit a further plea of competency. Sheriff Fraser claims the accused has to show cause why his motion was not argued at the first calling. Robbie tries his best to put his valid reasons forward However Sheriff Fraser was not playing the game... and announced that these were not good enough reasons for tendering late pleas.
Meanwhile Shona Byrd was appearing on charges of obstruction and failing to obey police orders. She decided to plea bargain in the face of inevitable conviction, and was fined £50.
John McPhie took a similar pragmatic approach.
10th Dec 1998 At last the proof hearing in the Court of Session on the writ of interdict applied for in March by RtP. The petition was against Miller Civil Engineering collecting tolls on the A87 on the basis that they were not in possession of properly signed authority to perform that function. Miller's argument being that if the court did not hold that the Crown Production 16, (the recycled memo from the development agreement) was in fact consent from the Secretary of State, it should rule that written consent was "implied". Proof of this was the Secretary of State had not objected to the arrangement in place. Advocate Michael Upton, pointed out that implied and 'written' are on opposite sides of the line of accomplished facts. Allowing this practice credence would be setting a precedent whereby statutory functions could be passed down a line of pals by a sequence of unrecorded phone calls Lord Eassie was polite and attentive, civil treatment in a civil court, just like Dingwall????
His toughest Question being, "where does it say in the Act that the Secretary of State's consent must be in writing?" Mr. Upton replied that the Act did not contemplate any form of transfer of rights except by way of 'Assignation', a proper form of statutory writing, etymologically rooted on the word 'sign' and any substitute was unlawful. The last plea from Miller was that should the court not 'be with them' on their implied consent idea, would it please not grant interdict 'in perpetuity' but suspend the interdict to give the Secretary of State time to draft out a letter of consent.
This brought an interesting smile to the face of the Pict whom we suspect knows something!!Robbie still awaits a ruling.
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Copyright © Ray Shields, 1999.
Most recent revision, 13 March 1999