A millionaire businessman who wants to keep the public off his Scottish estate is at risk of kidnap because local police are underperforming, according to a former police chief.

Joe Holden, who was head of operations of Central Police, told Stirling Sheriff Court that Euan Snowie and his family could be snatched because criminals would know the Dunblane police area had lower-than-average detection rates. Mr Holden, a former chief-superintendent, is now a security consultant.

Earlier, Mr Snowie had told the court that walkers could be at risk because of cows on his estate. He said: “There are cattle on the track daily. In my experience cows when they are pregnant look docile but they are extremely dangerous.”

The court is sitting to determine Mr Snowie’s appeal against an order by Stirling Council to unlock gates at his 70-acre Boquhan Estate, near Kippen, Stirlingshire, to enable public access under the Land Reform Act.

Mr Holden said he had carried out a risk assessment on behalf of the Snowies. He said the family was a target for criminals because of their wealth and because of publicity surrounding the court case. He told Sheriff Andrew Cubie that an ‘exclusion zone’ would increase the Snowies’ sense of security.

He said: “Professional or hardened criminals whose job is dishonesty will no doubt talk about people like the Snowie family; they’ll read the papers, they’ll cotton on, and they could target them in a primitive, brutal way.”

He admitted that harmless walkers would also be kept out if the exemption was granted.

Mr Holden, who retired from the police at the end of last year, said: “Dunblane [police] sub-area command is under-performing.

“I'm convinced that criminals will look at police performance ratings, and look at areas where the police are less effective.”

Earlier, the court heard from Euan Snowie that 40 acres of his estate were maintained by two groundsmen and that he considered these areas as private. He said: “I see it as my garden, even though it’s so spread out.

“We’ve had people coming through the estate for a nose, basically.

Mr Snowie said he wanted people to ask his permission before coming onto his land: “It’s what my mother slapped me for – manners.”

He added that his friends often flew their helicopters in and out of the estate.

The Ramblers’ Association is supporting Stirling Council’s action.