Sophia Shafi’s letter

This is the text of the letter posted by Sophia Shafi on the Gairloch & Surrounding Area Forum on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/222187897973433/?fref=ts).

Tracy McLachlan
Rua Reidh Keepers Accommodation
Melvaig
Gairloch
IV21 2EA

21st March 2016

REF – Your letter of 11th March 2016 to Gairloch Community Council

NOTICE OF INTENDED ACTION

Glossary of terms

“ABSA” Antisocial Behaviour (Scotland) Act 2004

“ASBO” Antisocial Behaviour Order

“The Act” Public Rights of Passage Act 1984

“DOS” Deed of Servitude dated December 22nd 1964

“The letter” Your letter dated 11th March addressed to Gairloch Community Council

“NLB” Northern Lighthouse Board

“The Road” The Road running from Melvaig Village to the Lighthouse

“The Sheriff” Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle, Grampian Highlands and Islands

“Social Media” Facebook community pages:
Gairloch Community Council
Gairloch and Surrounding Area Forum
Rua Reidh Road

“SPSO” Scottish Public Services Ombudsman

“USP” Unique Selling Point

Dear Ms McClachlan

With reference to The Letter, your erection of a road sign in Melvaig by The Road, and to various complaints being made against you via Social Media and otherwise, you are put strictly on notice of intended action against you. The action against you may include (but is not limited to) a formal complaint to The Sheriff with a view to obtaining an ASBO as defined by ABSA and any subsequent punitive action therefrom. This may include the instigation of criminal proceedings against you if deemed appropriate by The Sheriff.

Before detailing the basis for the intended action, it is worth pointing out to you that at the time of drafting this notice, there are some 1,000 signatories to a petition via Social Media requesting that The Road be restored to its former access as a public right of passage as defined by The Act.

Moving onto the notice of intended action:

The Letter

In your letter, you generally accept that the there is a public right of way between Melvaig and the Lighthouse. However, you believe that The Road is excluded from this right of way with reference to “unauthorised vehicles”. You also accept that the land surrounding the road belongs to Inverasdale Estate, not you.

Whilst The Letter itself does not detail any action you propose to take, it appears that since you purchased The Keepers Accommodation from the previous owners in 2013, you have sought to erect signs along The Road seeking to deny access to the public. Further to this, you have instructed various tourist agencies to remove reference to The Road being for public use in any way, and instead instructing them to refer to The Road as “private” and “no access” other than by agreement with you. It is therefore a reasonable assumption to make that The Letter forms part of a seemingly unilateral attempt by you to close The Road to anyone but a named few.

The Lighthouse

You operate a Guest House and a Self Catering unit, and you have a website and Facebook page, referring to your business amongst other things as “Rua Reidh Lighthouse” and “stayatlighthouse”. A focal point of your advertising is the privacy and remoteness of your Guest House and Self Catering Unit, and it would be fair to say that this privacy is a USP to your business. You mention The Road as part of your USP, giving the distinct impression that the “3 mile private access track” belongs to you. You further state that “Vehicle access to the lighthouse is for booked guests only”. All of this gives the impression that you own The Lighthouse and The Road.

Matters Arising

In The Letter, you state that you have “taken legal advice from one of Scotland’s leading law firms”. This is quite a remarkable statement as it implies that you have been advised to impose access restrictions by your solicitor, notwithstanding the fact that you produce no solicitor’s letter in support of your actions. Furthermore you seek to rely on this “advice”.

If indeed you have instructed a law firm and subsequently received advice, then it should result in the very least in your obtaining a legal order of sorts to impose road restrictions. Once received, you (or your solicitor) would need to serve the requisite legal notices offering a period of consultation with the various stakeholders, such stakeholders being those who have been historically using The Road, and those who are likely to wish to use it in the future. This clearly has not been done. One can only conclude that a) you have not received advice upon instruction or b) your advice was not given in the manner to which you now seek to use it. Either way, you have signed the letter and you are responsible for it’s contents. If this is not the case, then you are put upon notice to produce such a document as to give you cause to believe you are acting lawfully

With regards to your reasoning for closing the road to the public, it is generally flawed and spurious; whether or not a road is “private” or “public”, the access on The Road and to The Road is generally defined by The Act. The Act makes it very clear that

  • Members of the public must have used the route openly and peaceably, without the permission, express or implied, of the landowner.
  • Members of the public must have used the route without interruption for a period of 20 years or more.
    The Road does not need to be registered as a public right of way at all. In fact, it would be up to the landowner to apply to the courts to have a change of access rights.
    You mention a DOS. Such deeds are designed to delineate where responsibility lies with the upkeep of a road, and give recommendations as to what types of vehicles are generally suitable. Such deeds are not designed to exclude the public from having access to a road. Notwithstanding the above, the NLB has taken responsibility in ensuring the road is maintained in accordance with the DOS. You personally have never contributed to its upkeep. You do not own the land, the road or the lighthouse. Simply put, you have no authority whatsoever as to decide who uses the road, rather a responsibility as a sub-user with frontage.
    Far from wanting restricted access, The NLB wanted the signs relating to The Road to state “No Through Road”, and was (and remains) happy for the road to be used responsibly by the public, as is the Landowner, Inverasdale Estates.
    In 1982, there was an agreement made pertaining to the DOS. These gave rise to safety inspections by the Highland Regional Council Roads Department on a periodic basis. Indeed in 2011 the NRB arranged for road repairs. Far from being intended as a completely private road, The NLB has diligently discharged its duty in ensuring The Road users could continue “to use the route openly and peaceably”.
    You refer to a ”gate at Melvaig”. The gate to which you refer was not intended to shut out road users, rather livestock. The NLB discharged its maintenance responsibility in this regard by having a cattle grid installed some 40 years ago to ease access for vehicles. Your interpretation with regards to the use of the gate is clearly wrong. If anything, the gate was designed for reasons of safety for road users and livestock.

Turning to your advertising of The Lighthouse. It appears that it is the issue of your business USP as being the driving force behind your rather cynical attempts to deny the community and the wider public it’s basic rights. There is clear and voluminous evidence to back this up. You have suggested that your real concerns relate to the upkeep of the road and your concern for safety. Given the above, particularly in light of the diligence of The NLB in cooperation with the estate, then your suggestions in this regard appear at best spurious, disingenuous and more likely a smokescreen. There have been numerous complaints made about your verbal and physical aggression towards members of the public. These are documented on Social Media as well as being discussed in the community.
Bearing all of the above in mind, it appears that you are acting unlawfully insofar as

  1. attempting to impose a ban on vehicle access to The Road
  2. using the name of The Lighthouse as your own
  3. using The Road as your own
  4. threatening members of the public
  5. undermining the peaceful enjoyment of Rua Reidh Lighthouse

and you are put on strict notice that unless you desist forthwith with the above, injunctive relief will be sought immediately against you via The Sheriff and SPSO with regards to the above, along with any and all associated costs
from today, this day Twenty One March Two Thousand and Sixteen

Sophia Shafi
Melvaig, Gairloch and West Yorkshire, England