“False allegation”

Carolyn recently posted on our Facebook page about her experience at the Lighthouse when she took her 92-year-old father there after the Arctic Convoy commemorations (https://www.facebook.com/ruareidhroad/posts/651879851665833).

She’s been in touch to say she received the following message from Tracy McLachlan, but that it was quickly deleted:

You are clearly connected with the local hate campaign against me. As you well know, you drove onto our private property without permission. There is an obvious sign making it perfectly clear that the road is private and for authorised vehicles only. You ignored that sign and we asked you to leave. We had no idea who was in the car. There was no screaming or shouting. I videoed the encounter because we are having problems with the local hate campaign inventing incidents so we are now obtaining video evidence of all encounters with trespassers. As soon as you left I called the police and sent them a copy of the video. You also went to the police after being incited to do so by the local hate campaign, and I received a report from the police to say they have considered the video evidence and told you there was no crime committed, and gave you advice about entering private property without permission. The police have recorded this in their ongoing log of harassment incidents against us. I am disgusted at your exploitation of your father’s status as a war veteran in inventing this false allegation against us.

Are there any legal experts out there who could give an opinion as to whether the phrase exploitation of your father’s status as a war veteran in inventing this false allegation against us could constitute libel?

We checked with Carolyn about the “obvious sign”. It was this one (or one very similar to it):

Photo of the sign at Melvaig, showing apparent anti-climb paint

This photo is from 2016, when the sign appeared at the Melvaig end of the road, complete with anti-climb paint, roughly when the owners of the keepers’ accommodation declared that the entire road from Melvaig to Rua Reidh was closed.

We will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Interaction

The owner of the keepers’ accommodation has this morning joined in the discussion on the Facebook group, with an account of a rescue at Rua Reidh yesterday and thoughts about people who might need to park close to the lighthouse, and about locals. (Whether the comments apply to some locals or all isn’t immediately clear.)

Photo from yesterday when we called the emergency services because a walker fell from the cliffs. The coastguard helicopter was quickly on the scene to rescue the injured lady. The ambulance waited at the lighthouse ready to transport her to Raigmore once she had been rescued by the winchmen. Lucky the boulders on the track to the helipad were in place, so that the helipad was not blocked by parked cars. Yes, the area that you’re all getting so exercised about is used as the emergency helipad. However had cars been parked there I’m sure that the injured lady and her family would have been fine about it. After all it’s much more important that lazy bastards who can’t be bothered to get off their fat arses and walk a few metres have somewhere to park than it is to have somewhere for the rescue helicopter to land. Perhaps the time has come to replace the boulders that can too easily be moved by the local morons, with lockable bollards or a gate to which only authorised users have the key.

The owners of the Rua Reidh keepers' accommodation interact with the Facebook group.

Walk Highlands sponsorship

From a visitor to the Facebook page:

On the Walk Highlands site, the walk from Rua Reidh to Camus Mor (which my husband and I do a few times a year) clearly states that the walk starts in the public car park at Melvaig. I then understood why – the route is sponsored by the Lighthouse. http://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/torridon/rubha-reidh.shtml Surely if they are sponsoring a walk, they certainly shouldn’t be harassing walkers…? Anyway, thanks for the info – keep up the good work!

Letter from Tracy McLachlan

This email was sent to the press but not all the parties listed! Gairloch CC, Visit Wester Ross, Melvaig Crofters and GBB Estates did not receive this email from the McLachlans as claimed but got it from the press when being asked for comment!

To:

Gairloch Community Council

Visit Wester Ross

GALE

cc:

Ms Christine Clyde, Northern Lighthouse Board

Mr Mark Williams, Inverasdale Estate

Constable Neil Rathbone, Gairloch Police Station

Councillor Richard Greene, Highland Council

Mr Philip Waite, Highland Council Access Officer

Mr Alex MacAskill, Melvaig Common Grazings Committee

Re: Private road from Melvaig to Rua Reidh Lighthouse

We are very disappointed that the Inverasdale Estate, Gairloch Community Council, Visit Wester Ross and the Melvaig Crofters refused to meet with us to discuss the situation with access around Rua Reidh Lighthouse and have instead engaged in a vitriolic, unprofessional and aggressive campaign against us. We feel that a mutually agreeable way forward would have been much better for all concerned and a sensible compromise could have been reached.

You will recall that we took legal advice about the whole question of access. That advice has not changed and the situation remains that

· There is no public vehicular right of way over the road

· The only party who can allow access is Mark Williams, however he has to pay due regard to his agreements with other parties with an interest in the road e.g. the NLB and ourselves. The terms of our title make it clear that Mr Williams cannot grant access over and above normal Estate personal, agricultural and sporting usage

Mr Williams has stated that he is happy for the public to drive on the private road. This effectively gives the public a right of passage (NOT a right of way) which has been confirmed by Highland Council. Mr Williams (or a future owner of the Estate) could withdraw permission at any time, at which point the right of passage would cease.

Mr Williams is in clear breach of his agreement with us by allowing the public to drive on the road, however this is a civil matter between Mr Williams and ourselves and we will follow that up with him separately.

You will recall that our initial reasons for asking for access on the road to be restricted were because of maintenance costs and privacy.

As far as maintenance costs are concerned, Mr Williams allowing it to become a public right of passage is good news for us, as Mr Williams is now liable for the maintenance of of the road. Highland Council have no responsibility for maintenance but they do have a duty to ensure that the road is safe for the public. Mr Williams is also liable for any accident or injury to the public on his land. Mr Williams has confirmed to us that the owners of the Keepers Accommodation have no obligation to the Estate to maintain the road.

As far as our own land is concerned, the public have no right of passage on our land and we will take appropriate steps to ensure there is no vehicle access. For the avoidance of doubt, we bought the buildings at the lighthouse in Feb 2013 and in a separate transaction in Feb 2014 bought a further area of land around the lighthouse from the Estate.

Turning to the issue of privacy, the “right to roam” legislation is clear on the rights of privacy for the owners of private houses. The legislation states (ref Scottish Outdoor Access Code section 3.17) that regardless of who owns the land around a private building:

When close to a house or garden, you must respect people’s privacy and peace of mind by:

· using a path or track if there is one;

· keeping a sensible distance from the house and avoiding ground that overlooks the house or garden from close by

· keeping a sensible distance from a waterside house if you are on the water

· not lingering or acting in ways which might annoy or alarm people living in the house; and

· keeping noise to a minimum

The best views of the lighthouse can be appreciated from the road above the lighthouse, which is less than 50 metres from the buildings. Walkers can access the jetty and cliffs via the signed footpath and have over 18,000 acres of the peninsula in which to exercise their right to roam. There is absolutely no need for walkers to leave the road on the lighthouse side and approach the lighthouse buildings, or to walk on the couple of acres of land that surrounds the lighthouse. We will be taking steps to ensure that our signage makes it very clear that it is private property and that there are no visitor facilities.

In summary:

· There is no public vehicular right of way over the road, but Mr Williams has (in breach of his agreement with us) allowed the public to use it, thus creating a right of passage while he allows the public access

· Maintenance of the road is the responsibility of the Inverasdale Estate

· Liability for any accident or injury on the road lies with the Inverasdale Estate

· The public have a responsibility to respect our privacy under the “right to roam” near the lighthouse buildings and must keep to the road and signed footpath

I trust this makes our position clear.

Yours sincerely

Tracy McLachlan

Tracy & Roger McLachlan

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Melvaig, Gairloch, Wester Ross, IV21 2EA

01445 771263

www.stayatalighthouse.co.uk

Scottish Government input

Posted by Sophia Shafi on the Gairloch & Surrounding Area forum on Facebook:

By way of update, received today from the Scottish Government.

“[You] may wish to note that it is the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984 (“the 1984 Act”) that defines a road. It provides that a roads is:

“any way (other than a waterway) over which there is a public right of passage (by whatever means and whether subject to a toll or not) and includes the road’s verge; and any bridge (whether permanent or temporary, over which the road passes; and any tunnel through which the road passes; and any reference to a road includes a part thereof…..”

It also provides that local authorities are the local road authority for all “roads” in their area. While a local authority is only responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of public roads on its list of roads, it is the roads authority over all “roads” in their area (as defined above), except those that the Scottish Ministers are responsible for i.e. trunk roads and motorways.

Responsibilities of roads authorities extend to traffic signs and you may wish to contact the Highland Council in relation to your concerns. Where the sign is not a traffic sign, the local authority as the planning authority may have responsibilities for granting planning permission to signage.

I hope this is helpful.”

I thank the author for giving us this clarification. It makes it clear that

A) The road is under the ultimate jurisdiction of the Highland Council

And

B) the erection of any road sign needs to be with the authority of the Council

As there has been no notice/ approval whatsoever from the Council with regards to the erection of the sign in Melvaig, then it stands that this sign should be wholly ignored. Further to this, Tracy and Roger have been requested to remove the sign on the grounds that it is both hazardous and deliberately misleading.

Whilst the removal of the sign is down to those who erected it (and not the public), the sign itself should be ignored and the public rights of passage enjoyed.

If any member of the public who uses the road is subsequently challenged by those who erected it, then the public should be aware that the sign is not approved by the council and therefore unlawfully placed.

I will be in touch with the various tourist information centres over the next day or so with a view to clarifying the actual legal position with regards to vehicular access to The Lighthouse and the various places of interest surrounding it.

NB – if I’m challenged as to the veracity of this correspondence, then please be assured that I have the original communication. The one I have posted has been appropriately redacted for the purposes of social media.

Thank you

Petition

The owner of the keeper’s accommodation at Rua Reidh Lighthouse (also spelled Rubh Re, among other ways) has decided to close the three-mile road from Melvaig to the lighthouse to “unauthorised” vehicles – hence this petition.

The lighthouse is a popular destination for visitors to Wester Ross, drawing people staying in Gairloch and places further afield. The road is used by the accommodation owners and their paying guests, along with local crofters, the Northern Lighthouse Board (who maintain the lighthouse itself), the BBC and the Coastguard, among others.

Were vehicular access to be prevented, anyone wishing to see the lighthouse would have to walk or cycle about three hilly miles to get there. This effectively renders the lighthouse – and the surrounding landscape or cliffs and beaches – effectively off-limits to disabled people and anyone who can’t manage a six-mile round trip on foot or two wheels. There used to be a visitors’ centre with a drinks machine and a toilet (along with information boards about the lighthouse, the surrounding area and the wildlife), but these facilities have been closed by the current owner. Therefore anyone needing the toilet would then have to walk back to Melvaig (another three miles) and then drive to Gairloch (about eight miles further).

A petition has been started asking Highland Council to help the community – local people, visitors, and other fans of the lighthouse or of the area generally – maintain vehicular access to the lighthouse, possibly by the Council adopting the road.

(In case the petition widget isn’t working, here’s an old-fashioned link you can click: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/en-gb/407/699/348/urge-highland-councilopen-to-re-open-access-for-all-to-visit-a-much-loved-local-landmark)

Thanks to Laura Buckley for the great photo of the lighthouse!