Image: Becky Hitchcock

The persecution of birds of prey is one of the most malign of wildlife crimes. Yesterday, the ever excellent Raptor Persecution Scotland (RPS) website (which has courageously and doggedly documented and reported on the topic for over 4 years now) carried yet another story of the tragic disappearance of a particularly iconic bird – the first Sea Eagle to fledge in eastern Scotland for over 200 years.

The BBC reported on the police raid yesterday.

As RPS notes on its website,

“We’re almost at a loss what to say. What can we say that hasn’t already been said each and every time? What words are there to describe the fury, rage, sadness, sorrow and overwhelming frustration about what is going on, right under our noses, in our own countryside? The Untouchables strike again. It is out of control and the Government seems powerless to stop it.”

The North Glenbuchat Estate in Aberdeenshire is one of a number of notorious hotspots of wildlife crime with a number of poisoned birds discovered and four eagles having disappeared, presumed dead. The estate is reported to be owned by George Ivar Louis Mountbatten, the 4th Marquess of Milford Haven who bought it in 2008 although the only evidence that Mr Mountbatten owns the estate is to be found in the Autumn 2013 edition of the magazine of Scottish Land and Estates where he and North Glenbuchat Estate are reported as having joined the organisation.

In fact the owner of the estate is a company called North Glen Estate Ltd. registered at PO Box 171, Bristol House, The Centre, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos (see whoownsscotland info including small map and larger zoomable map). It acquired the estate in December 2007 for £4,116,132 (Title here and plan here but beware – 42Mb pdf). Quite who is the beneficial owner of this company is unknown as such details are not divulged to the public by the Turks and Caicos authorities. There is, however, a company called North Glen Estates Ltd. (spot the difference in name) which is registered in the UK. According to the 2013 Annual Return, the sole shareholder of this company is Mr James Kelly (Oathlaw House, Oathlaw, FORFAR DD8 3PQ) who is a Director. (but see UPDATE below) The sole other Director is Mrs Laura Sorrentino whose address is 2 Great Trippetts Cottage, Rake Road, Milland, Hampshire, GU30 7JU.

This is another clue that Mr Mountbatten is the beneficial owner of North Glen Estates Ltd. since he is the owner of the Great Trippetts in Hampshire. In the 2012 Annual Accounts of North Glen Estates Ltd., it is revealed that the company has net liabilities of £1,053,733. The viability of this “deficiency of assets” is dependent upon the continuing financial support of North Glen Estates (sic) Ltd.(1) “who own the estate”.

This debt is thus in the form of a loan from an offshore tax haven – an increasingly familiar device that enables funds to be brought into the UK free of tax and (in most cases) be eventually written off or subject to high rates of interest in order to eliminate any profits that might be made by the UK company.

In the Turks and Caicos of course, there is no form of tax – no income tax, company tax, withholding tax, capital gains tax or other tax on income, profits or assets. Exempted companies automatically receive a Governor’s Undertaking guaranteeing exemption from taxation for 20 years. Furthermore, the Turks and Caicos have been under direct rule from the UK since 2009 as a result of government corruption and incompetence. In 2011, the UK Government underwrote a loan of £160 million to Turks and Caicos government. Richard Murphy, director of Tax Research UK, said at the time,

We are in the extraordinary situation that the British taxpayer is underwriting a loan to support a tax haven, which will take away our tax revenues. There is absolutely no sense to this. The condition of these loans must be that they strip these tax-haven practices.”

In light of all of this it is worth remembering that I argued during the course of the Land Registration Bill in 2012 that the Scottish Parliament could take action to improve transparency in the ownership of land by simply refusing to register any title held by company in a tax haven. (2) The Scottish Government rejected the idea. In this particular case, the fact that there is no official record of who the beneficial owner of this land is may lead to problems in any potential prosecution under the law on vicarious liability (where the owner of land can be held liable for any wildlife crime committed by an employee – Section 24 of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011)

Meanwhile, HMRC might want to take a look at this company in relation to its offshore funds transfers.

UPDATE 2032hrs 25 APRIL 2014

I use Duedil for obtaining records of UK Companies. It publishes information a few days after Companies House and so I missed an interesting piece of information filed on 17 April and published on Duedil 22 April. The appointment of Mr James Kelly as one of the two Directors of North Glen Estates Ltd. was terminated on 7 January 2014. This leaves the company with one Director – Mrs Laura Sorrentino, occupation – Personal Assistant. Quite a responsibility with over £1 million liabilities being underwritten by a company in an offshore tax haven. I hope she has taken good advice.

(1) Confusingly the accounts refer to owner as North Glen Estates Ltd when in fact it it North Glen Estate Ltd (spotted the difference yet?)

(2) See the blog post linked to and (linked to in the blog), in particular, Fergus Ewing’s comments at cols. 982-985 in Committee where he argues that to restrict titles to companies registered in the EU would deter inward investment.

19 Comments

  1. Hi Andy,
    Once again you have highlighted not only the elusive nature of ownership of Scottish estates and also the tax avoiding implications behind that. That I am delighted about and agree that there should be from now on refuse to register of all companies that hold land that reside in a tax haven. May I ask what the reasons were that the Scottish Government refused not to agree with endorsing your proposal?

  2. Could we get wee Eck to promise transparency in the “New Scotland” or the old devolved one if necessary. Everything about this makes my blood boil and would surely annoy just about anyone reading it. It needs to get wide publicity and coverage. It should be made an issue for Indy groups.

  3. Glenbuchat – hmm well , some years ago a friend and I took our dogs through woods there – we had to beat a very careful retreat when we disturbed some horrible traps – illegal ones. I guess things haven’t changed very much perhaps

  4. In light of the fact that so many folk who would like to be stewards of a wee piece of land in their lifetime, i count myself as one but were born in the Lowlands, cannot get a crofting tenancy, especially if you are female, cannot populate an island such as Rhum cos we dont have children, but know and care about our country and its wildlife, could we not repopulate by moving into these ghost owner properties????

  5. isn’t it amazing that those receiving area payments, forestry and conservation grants etc can define their land boundaries so easily?

  6. Many people in and around Glen Buchat are angry and appalled at the wildlife crime that is being perpetrated in their community. Please publicise widely, so that action is taken against those responsible – NOT their foot soldiers.

    • tch tch as well we all know Chris, this is all due to an intinerant, clandestine group of ornicidal psychopaths wandering the countryside killing birds despite all the benevolent surveillance carried out by local landed interests to protect these wonderful birds.

    • Quite agree with Chris.
      The disappearance of rare raptors, or any animal percieved as detrimental to grouse is directly the result of blinkered and archaic land management practices promoted directly by (or more often indirectly) by absent land owners. Take for instance the killing of blue hares (mountain hares, an arctic relict species peculiar to the Cairngorms) as a method of reducing the tick population is, given research to the contrary, well…, clearly, quite mad.
      Apart from the unsurprising inactivity of the Scottish Parliament, one wonders what the Cairngorms National Park (logo a flying eagle!) are doing. The North Glenbuchat Estate lies entirely within the park boundary. Surely it must dawn that this, the third eagle in as many years to disappear within the estate, is bad publicity for the park, bad for tourism and a blight on local holiday businesses.

      • Is that the national park where you go through Strath Chicanery and Glen Gerrymander then up the slopes of Ben Oxymoron?

        • and from here, Glen Sharnbucket can just be made out in the swirling miasmal mists of the Victorian-Edwardian nightmare world of the surrounding rural hinterland.

    • Those responsible do of course include any managers/owners involved but the “foot soldiers” = gamekeepers, are every bit as responsible. They are the people who lay baits, shoot nesting birds, stamp on chicks and smash eggs…no one has to commit crimes for someone else, there is always a choice. Would you carry on working for someone who asks you to break a Law that could get you a six month jail sentence? I can tell you from experience that the keepers I have known who commit wildlife crimes, do so in full knowledge and merely think they are carrying on a tradition. I have even known of some who carry on the killing when their managers have told them to stop.

  7. All shooting estates should be rated as such, as they were till 1995.
    And the real owner must be a person , not a company, who pays the rates.

  8. Andrew Sandeman

    Andy

    your excellent work deserves better; but I fear the Govt. is totally in the pocket of powerful interests.
    As for independence changing anything – if only!

    Andrew

    • no change without it. Working on it SCCS and the SDA. Land Rental Value is on the agenda. I agree that the main political parties are subservient to the land monopoly cabal.

  9. I see from a google search (http://www.companiesintheuk.co.uk/ltd/north-glen-estates) that North Glen Estates Ltd’s type of business is listed as “Hunting, trapping and related service activities” – says it all really.

  10. I’m afraid Dave Dick is right . Yes the Landowners are ultimately responsible but everyone makes choices in life .” I was only following orders” just doesn’t wash .I sympathise with the fact that their livelihood’s are attached to these estates .i.e. their homes etc. and they are paid a pittance but you choose you’re employer as we all do . We are a long way off landowners being prosecuted and it is the whole culture that needs to change . That can take many years .The threat of prison is probably the biggest deterrent as money is no object to wealthy landowners unless its serious money or indeed withdrawal of their licence to have a grouse moor or Gun licence’s on their estate . The Landowners are inevitably the people who make the laws or are of privileged backgrounds with connections in high places .I’m afraid we are a long way from changing this but at least we are making a start . Glenbuchat by the way has a lot more to offer than Hunting ,Trapping etc. .These people are in the minority and there are many good things happening up in Glenbuchat .So support the good stuff and try and drown out the shit .That will make them even more isolated than they already are .

  11. Lingo refers to the “licence to have a grouse moor”. Can anyone describe the current legislation which allows grouse shooting? If a protected species is found illegally killed on a grouse moor then surely the immediate sanction should be to withdraw the right to shoot from the estate.

  12. Colin Hoggett

    As the estate owners apparently cannot control their gamekeepers and the Police seem unable to secure prosecutions perhaps it is time for grouse shooting to go the same way as fox hunting. The estate owners should be put on notice that if the senseless slaughter of birds of prey continues pressure will be put on the government to bring in a ban on grouse shooting in any area where birds of prey are not actively encouraged and protected by the estates in question. Do not ask me to feel sorry for the staff who lose their jobs as it is they who will have cut their own throats. There will be little if any loss of tax revenue as most of these estates do not pay tax in Scotland and the tourism industry brings in far more revenue than the grouse estates.