Waste-disposal millionaire Euan Snowie has lost his battle to keep walkers from his Stirlingshire estate.
The gates to the Boquhan estate
Sheriff Andrew Cubie today decided that there was no justification in Snowie and his wife Claire keeping out walkers, cyclists and horse riders by locking gates at their Boquhan estate near Kippen. Both the Ramblers’ Association and Stirling Council, which jointly fought the Snowies’ bid, welcomed the verdict.
There had been concerns that, following bus magnate Ann Gloag’s successful case at Kinfauns Castle, a legal trend was developing which undermined the principals of the right to roam introduced by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act.
The Snowies had sought to exclude 40 acres of the estate from the provisions of the act. Sheriff Cubie declared this was excessive and that only a much smaller area around the couple’s house was necessary for their privacy and security.
Ramblers’ Scotland President Dennis Canavan welcomed the decision. He said: “We are delighted with Sheriff Cubie’s decision which reflects the intentions of the Scottish Parliament when the Land Reform Act was passed.
“This result sends a message to all landowners of big estates that people are entitled to walk on land provided they are acting responsibly in accordance with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The decision also sends a message to local authorities that access rights apply along driveways and past gatehouses.
“There are a number of cases around the country where signs have been erected and gates locked and we hope the authorities will now take action knowing that the courts will back them up.
“We do not think Mr Snowie should be concerned about this decision. We are confident that access can be made to work on his estate. Prior to the court case, the Ramblers had useful discussions with Mr Snowie and we look forward to having further meetings, if necessary, about how access can be managed.”
Fifteen acres of the Boquhan estate, which includes contains a tennis court, riding stables and a separate equestrian riding area, will be excluded from access. The rest will be available to walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
A joint application by Dr Barbara Ross, who lives in a lodge on the estate and was said to be the leaseholder of the locked gates, was similarly dismissed by the sheriff.
Sheriff Cubie was scathing in his judgement about the quality of evidence from Mr Snowie. The sheriff said: “I accepted that the pursuer's concerns were genuine but his wish to restrict access so informed his evidence as to render some of it unhelpful in the determination of this matter.
“He prided himself in being able to tell whether someone was a genuine walker or someone up to mischief, although this position was undermined by his assertion that he had never seen any genuine walkers.
“Mr Snowie’s position appeared to be that if someone was not courteous to him then they could not under any circumstance be a genuine recreational walker. Everything is private because he says that it is private.”
Sheriff Cubie was also unimpressed by the evidence presented by a former chief superintendent of police, Joseph Holden, whom Mr Snowie had commissioned to compile a security dossier for the case.
The sheriff said: “The evidence which he gave purported to be by way of an independent assessment of the risk to Mr Snowie presented to the court as an objective aid. I am afraid that it did not impress me as such. It was clear that some of the bases upon which the report was prepared were factually incorrect.
“When he was being cross examined, perfectly properly and fairly, about this omission [about the existence of a right of way across the estate] he dissembled before trying to suggest that the defender’s counsel was ‘sniggering and shaking his head’, a comment both unwarranted and unworthy.
“At the very least Mr Holden showed a sensitivity which would not accord with his years’ experience in the police force.”
Stirling Council, joint defender in the case with the Ramblers’ Association Scotland, also expressed its satisfaction with the outcome. Brian Devlin, Stirling Council’s director of environment services, said: “The judgment of the sheriff is a careful analysis of the law and the facts in this case.
“We are pleased that the council's position has been vindicated in all respects in their efforts to ensure that the access legislation works as it was intended. The council had entered into discussions with Mr Snowie and the Rosses to try to reach amicable agreement. It is unfortunate that those efforts were in vain and that court action had to determine this matter.
“The judgment is one that will assist the council and the public in appreciating the extent of the rights of individuals whether they wish to exercise their rights, or wish to protect their property from unwarranted interference with privacy.”
Sheriff Cubie will determine costs in the case at a hearing on 13 May, when he will also detail precise terms of the order.