LAIRD IS FINED OVER CASTLE DEMOLITION
Stirling, Scotland - Landowner Alistair Dickson was fined a paltry £1000 after being found guilty of ordering historic Lanrick Castle near Doune to be destroyed without permission.
Lanrick Castle, which is situated four miles north west of Doune in Perthshire, on the banks of the River Teith, was once the home of the Haldanes. In 1776, General John Murray bought the property after making a fortune in India.
General Murray was a Macgregor and after the prohibition of the name was repelaed in 1774, General Murray became chief of Clan Gregor.
In the 1790s, Murray commissioned Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham to design the new property around the original tower and call it Clan Gregor Castle.
In 1840's the castle was sold by Murray's son and the property eventually became vacant in the 1960s and fell into disrepair.
Dickson, (53) who is a local property developer paid contractors to destroy the B-listed historic site, claiming storms last year made the building structurally unsafe.
He had denied the charge unauthorised demolition under the Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas (Scotland) Act relying on the statutory defence that demolishing the castle was the minimum he could have done to remove the danger of it collapsing and killing someone.
The prosecution claimed that he had presided over its decline for many years after inheriting it from his mother in the 1980s, and had ignored repeated warnings that he needed listed building consent to knock it down.
Dickson was told he could have fenced it off to make it safe while officials considered how it could be saved or its best features preserved and recorded.
Giving his verdict on Friday, Sheriff Wyllie Robertson said the £1000 fine was a nominal penalty in comparison with the maximum penalty of a £20,000 fine or six month jail sentence.
And he added: "It would be naive to suggest there is no financial benefit to the accused from no longer having responsibility for this ruinous structure."
"However, what was lost in this case was a ruinous structure that had been in this state for many years."
Dickson claimed the castle was uninhabitable and uninhabited when he took it over and he had explored every avenue to try to find a use for the building before a fire in 1995, started by intruding youths, rendered it dangerous even to enter.
At the end of January 2002 storms caused two of the external walls and an internal wall to collapse, scattering debris 65 feet.
Sheriff Robertson said: "I have no doubt that Mr Dickson had concerns in relation to public safety, but I find it difficult to accept that was his prime motivation."
But Dickson was not the only one to have his knuckles rapped over the incident. The court heard that practices and procedures at Stirling Council, the planning body responsible for protecting the castle, could only be described as "inept" and the local authority had contributed to the castle’s demise by creating confusion and a "bureaucratic nightmare."
Sheriff Robertson criticised the council’s action in issuing dangerous buildings notices requiring Dickson to begin fencing off or demolishing the castle within seven days, while at the same time telling him he couldn’t do either without official consent that could take months to obtain.
And he added: "It is obvious that a far more co-ordinated approach is required when such buildings suddenly become dangerous. It frankly beggars belief that such a situation can arise."
He said it had, however, been made lucidly clear to Dickson that he could not demolish the castle without consent.
Stirling Council’s environmental quality chair Councillor Gillie Thomson said: "The verdict of the court is to be welcomed as a warning to landowners that they do have a responsibility of care over our heritage. We will need to consider carefully the full implications of the sheriff’s judgement."
"A review has already begun of the council’s own practices and procedures, especially in building control services, which were at issue during the trial. The demolition of Lanrick Castle was unlawful and I congratulate our own council officers who carried out exhaustive research to bring this prosecution."