By JOHN ROBERTSON
MAVERICK campaigner Stuart Hill is hoping his long-awaited showdown with the authorities over the legal ownership of Shetland might happen before the end of the year.
After nearly six months of deliberately flouting the law to try to provoke governments or the SIC into taking him on, the self-declared steward of Forvik believes his historic confrontation may come in an action by HM Revenue and Customs over unpaid tax.
He told The Shetland Times he intends using a hearing that revenue and customs are expected to arrange in the courthouse in Lerwick later this month to declare the state’s actions illegal and force the Crown to prove its claim of ownership over Shetland.
“This is what this activity is all about – trying to provoke some government department into taking action against me so that they have to defend their position in court.”
The eccentric Englishman believes the Crown’s claim on Shetland cannot be proven and the islands never legally became part of Scotland after King Christian of Norway and Denmark pawned them in 1469 and therefore the islands are not part of the UK or the EU today.
Mr Hill claims Shetlanders have been victims of “a massive fraud perpetrated at the highest level for hundreds of years” and we still have the right to make our own laws under our rightful status as a Crown dependency. He believes there would be huge implications for Shetland, including taking control over oil fields and fisheries off Shetland away from the UK.
There has been little official challenge to Mr Hill in the 168 days since he declared Forewick Holm off Papa Stour to be a Crown dependency – a sure sign to him that the establishment is not confident of being able to refute his constitutional arguments. During that time he has: ? deliberately withheld his personal income tax and the VAT from one of his businesses; ? built a small house in Forvik without planning permission from the SIC; ? flouted the Crown Estate’s ownership of the seabed by carrying out harbour works; ? disturbed sensitive land without consulting Scottish Natural Heritage.
The taxman has tried imposing £100 fines for his failure to submit tax returns and his refusal to pay VAT has led to an attempt to seize his assets and the threat of being made bankrupt. Every step of the way he publishes the correspondence on the internet for all to see.
He said the SIC, which he describes as “an illegal authority”, had so far not written even one letter to him regarding his Forvik activities. “You could have expected at least a letter saying ‘What do you think you are doing?’. But absolutely not a peep.”
Bizarrely, the Queen’s officials and those dealing with Mr Hill in revenue and customs send their letters to his Forvik address rather than to where he actually lives in Ocraquoy. “That gives at least some degree of recognition,” he said His appeal for people to become citizens of Forvik has recruited 90 people, seven of them opting for the full citizenship afforded only to Shetland residents. As well as hoping islanders who own any property will follow his example and declare Crown dependency status, he is encouraging people elsewhere to buy or build houses in Shetland and take part in his “historic project”. The appeal has not been publicised yet and has no takers so far.
But he said: “Anyone in Shetland could follow my example and declare their property a Crown dependency and I’m obviously still working on getting as many Shetland people as I can to do that. It’s difficult to get people in this community to do something as radical as that unless a lot of other people are prepared to do it at the same time. But if people want to move here and follow my example, buy a piece of property themselves, that would be a way of encouraging people here to do the same thing, once they see that it is possible and they are not interfered with.”
In his appeal he suggests supporters should withhold their taxes to government and the SIC, putting the money in a central holding account instead. He states: “The relevant authority will be advised that the money has been paid into that account and will not be released to it until the government can come up with proper evidence of its authority. When enough people take this action it will be impossible to ignore.”
Mr Hill has been unable to visit his compact kingdom for the past two months due to the winter weather and a desire to avoid a repeat of his embarrassing emergency rescue in September. He viewed his lands from Papa Stour about three weeks ago, observing that while his flagpole, tool shed and outside toilet enclosure had vanished in the gales, the small house he spent the summer building remained standing. He hopes to nip in from time to time over the winter but has no intention of staying overnight.
His homemade boat is shipshape again after being recovered almost buried in the sand at a beach in Papa Stour after he was forced to abandon it to be airlifted to safety in September.
Meanwhile, with help from well-wishers in Cambridge he has launched a comprehensive new website at www.forvik.com to keep the world informed and is selling a range of merchandise intended to raise money for his project. A visit to Shetland during the summer by well-known newspaper cartoonist and book illustrator Martin Honeysett has yielded a range of T-shirts for sale, which include the slogans Forvik Needs You and Forvegian and Proud.
Mr Hill said other goods would be added soon, including Forvik stamps, passports and driving licences. He is also running a competition on the website for someone to compose music and lyrics for a Forvik national anthem.
Although now tooled up for a new onslaught on the state’s authority over the winter, the global audience he had early in the summer has since evaporated with little traffic now passing through his website which, during the first four days of media attention in June, attracted over 50,000 visitors. However, this time around he is more ready to cope with the deluge should his next stunt set off a tidal wave of interest once more.
He said: “Things are gently bubbling along and it’s not through my want of trying to bring things to a head but it’s coming along fast enough.”