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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-r_J14n100

Forty-one years ago today, the play that revitalised Scottish theatre had its first theatrical performance in public at Aberdeen Arts Centre on 24 April 1973.(1) Above is the BBC’s Play for Today version – a fascinating mix of live performance and documentary that ends with moving sequences on the impact of oil in Aberdeen and interviews with Texan oilmen, roustabouts and young folk made homeless by the price of houses.

Having spoken at two public showings of the film in the past two years, it is remarkable how the key theme of the play – control of natural resources – remains as vital and relevant today as it did when the 7:84 theatre company toured Scotland in the 1970s.

An account of the play and its significance can be found at the National Library of Scotland’s website here and this academic article in International Journal of Scottish Theatre provides much more detailed analysis of the play. On 26 January 2010, the National Library of Scotland hosted a discussion of the play which can be heard here.

Here’s what theatre writer and director Davey Anderson said about the play.

“I saw the Cheviot on my honeymoon. It was October 1973, we’d got married in my home town, Rutherglen, and decided to take a road-movie holiday, hippies that we were … 

“First stop Kyleakin, Skye. The gig – Kyleaking Village Hall. The Audience – the good people of Skye. The Performers – a bunch of folk who didn’t seem ready: five minutes to go and they were still setting costumes, tuning instruments and blethering with each other and the audience. 

“Where were the curtains, the hushed reverence, the dinner jackets, the blue rinses? 

“… That night in a community hall in Skye proved to me that theatre was far from dead, as I has assumed it to be. 

“All the mince in the West End, where the actors couldn’t even be arsed acknowledging the presence of the audience was forgotten. Here was theatre that spoke to you about your life, the important things, the daft things, the things that give you joy and the things you can change. The company were startling in their energy, anarchic versatility and joyous commitment.”

Time for a revival?

(1) It was first performed at the What Kind of Scotland Conference in Edinburgh in April 1973. Thanks to Rob Gibson MSP for that clarification – he was at both performances. Another informant tells me of an earlier performance at a conference of the same name but held in Callendar Park College of Education.

Hilltrack on Ledgowan Estate

Last year, in a series of blogs, I highlighted a number of issues relating to Ledgowan Estate – in particular the controversy over the construction of an ugly bulldozed track.

The story was promoted by an incident over public access which arose during an inspection of the track by Dr Kenneth Brown who was investigating the track as part of a research project by Scottish Environment Link. Its report – Track Changes – was published in October 2013 and called for hilltracks to be subject to full planning control rather than the existing system of Permitted Development Orders. A Parliamentary Briefing can be found here and the full report here (5.3Mb pdf).

Last month, Scottish Land and Estates published a response to this report – The Way Ahead for Constructed Private Tracks – which challenged many of the findings of the Link report and asserted that the Track Changes report “has not been helpful in the debate” and “should have been more closely scrutinised, especially as it makes allegations about specific estates and was written with public funding.”

Scottish Environment Link has refuted these and other allegations made against its report in a further report published today in which it argues that,

“We find Scottish Land and Estates’ statements in their report about scrutiny and LINK’s charitable status strange and inappropriate. The issues raised in the Track Changes report fully comply with LINK’s charitable purposes and funding for the report was received from member contributions and charitable trusts. It is entirely proper that LINK uses its funds for this purpose.

The Way Ahead for Constructed Private Tracks makes a number of specific criticisms of our report, and we respond to these below. Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) claim that Track Changes contained ‘fundamental misconceptions’, ‘incorrect information’, ‘out of date photographs’ and ‘misleading’ points. These claims are baseless, and are not supported by anything in The Way Ahead for Constructed Private Tracks. It is unfortunate that Scottish Land and Estates have simply sought to discredit Track Changes without engaging with its main arguments, and while ignoring much of the evidence it contains. The basis for our campaign remains unaltered by their response..”

In the Spring edition of the SLE’s magazine, it argues that voluntary guidelines are adequate and urges its members to follow them.

The debate continues.

Meanwhile, a wee bit of history. One of the tracks that attracted a deal of criticism over the years was the one up Beinn a Bhuird in the Cairngorms. It has now been restored by the National Trust for Scotland but here’s an article from the January 1968 edition of Scottish Field explaining the background and purpose of its construction in 1966.