Guest Blog
by Jess Smith, Scottish author, musician and story-teller from Perthshire’s Travelling People

The Tinker’s Heart is a small arrangement of white quartz stones embedded in the ground at the junction between the road to Strachar (A815) and Hell’s Glen (B839) in Argyllshire.

For years it has stood as a testimony to the survival of Scotland’s Travelling people. A sacred place where couples wed, babies were christened and the dead blessed. In 1872 there is proof of two local people getting married there. There is no written evidence as to how old it is and like the oldest ballads that Burns listened to, it is all oral – no dates nor names. Reasons for the stones being placed there are associated with the Battle of Culloden and the Highland Clearances as well as the eradication of the Culture by removing children from campsites. It is sacred to my people from all over the world and needs to be  protected and restored.

Image: Old photograph of Tinkers’ Heart from fionatinker’s website

Several years ago someone told me of the sorry state of the Heart. A visit had me in tears. Highland cattle were trampling over it, a single strain of wire threaded through three metal poles was all there was to protect it (see picture above). It was dying and I had to save it.

I began by writing to the landowner Ms Kate Howe but she refused to answer. I wrote to her cousin Christina Noble but got the same response. I spent ages looking through the internet and found a very informative piece in Secret Scotland – Gypsy Wedding Place. (1)

I needed help so contacted my local MSP, Mike Russell. He was excellent and he set up a meeting with Ms Howe but was not prepared for her negativity. He’d not come across her attitude before. I presumed by his reactions that this landowner did not hold Travellers with much respect. Here is a rich landowner who owns 7048 acres of Scotland yet is not prepared to part with a few yards of old road.

Every step seemed to be getting harder. I went to visit a couple representing the landowner with Mike but got no joy there. Another meeting, this time at Argyll and Bute council headquarters with Mike Russell, Councillor Louise Glen-Lee, the Council’s tourism officer and a gentlemen from Historic Scotland, resulted in more negativity with Historic Scotland stating they would allocate funding for restoration but only with the landowners approval.

Two years moved fast the little heart was crying for help! Then out of the blue a black cage was erected over the heart (see picture below). I was pleased to see the ‘heart’ caged and safe but it looked more like a prison than the decorative stone wall and cairn I’d long visualised. While it remains in Kate Howe’s ownership it is very vulnerable. it has no legal protection and at the stroke of a pen she could develop the area, its a prime spot and I feel she just might have her  sights on such a plan. But even if she didn’t, she will in time die as will I. Who will care for the place then?

No –  this has to belong within the public domain. I contacted the Scottish Parliament to lodge a petition. Four months passed and each time I phoned the reply was “not petition material”! However Mike Russell managed to convince them of the history and importance of the site to Scotland’s culture. Just before Easter came the news that the petition will go live!!

That is how things stand today. Our ancient culture, timeline, respect and historical truths are now at this final stage and I am praying to Mother Earth to do what is right. If we are failed then Scotland’s future will be at the mercy of wind farms, shooters of our wild life, greedy strangers, land fracking and nimbys with lots of cash.

My petition “calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to direct Historic Scotland to investigate what action can be taken to ensure the restoration and preservation of the Heart of Quartz stones positioned in a field next to the A815, opposite the junction of the B839, overlooking Loch Fyne, known as the Gypsy Wedding Place, referred to locally as the Tinkers’ Heart.”

Please sign the petition. You can find further information on the petition page and at the Saving the Heart of the Travelling People facebook page. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland has a record here.

Thank you.

Jess Smith.

Editor’s NOTES

(1) Content here has been removed but relates to the comment from John MacDonald below.

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.

On 23 February 2014, the Sunday Herald revealed that Timothy Congdon, UKIP’s economic spokesperson, had benefitted from wind energy developments on his land in Argyll and Caithness.

Today (4 March) it was revealed that he has stood down from the post.

Timothy Congdon’s website is here. He regards himself as the “best economist in British politics” Nowhere does he declare his interests as a major landowner in Scotland. Given the absence of a freely-available online register of who owns Scotland, I have spent £21.60 in order to make transparent his landholdings which cover 6237 acres of land in Argyll and Caithness. The details which follow reveal 6 out of his 8 landholdings in Scotland. The website currently records them as separate holdings but in fact the Argyll properties are all contiguous with one another.

ARGYLL-SHIRE

Achaglass

Gartnagrenach

East Ronachan

North Ronachan

Sheirdrum Hill

CAITHNESS

Phillips Mains Woodland

Hollandmey Farm Forest

In addition, he has interests in a 329 acre Moodlaw forest in Dumfries-shire.

This matter not only concerns transparency but a wider issue of why so much (55%) of Scotland’s privately-owned forests are owned by absentee owners. Fully a third of Scotland’s privately-owned forests is owned by owners who live outside Scotland – in the rest of UK, Europe and offshore tax havens. For further analysis, see a report I wrote two years ago in February 2012.