By JOHN ROBERTSON
A former council worker who investigates how Shetland public money is used to aid private businesses is the victim of a sinister threat to his life. A series of hangman’s nooses have been hung on the door handle of Michael Peterson’s house in the Sound area of Lerwick with the number of coils in the knot reducing by one each time in an apparent bid to ratchet up the degree of threat.
The first noose appeared in 2007 and a further three have been found since, always being placed overnight when his wife is out of Shetland and he is alone at home. The last one was in April last year, which had only three coils. Eventually Mr Peterson went to the police for advice.
The former SIC development official had chosen not to go public about the intimidation but agreed recently to let the community know the kind of menacing behaviour that can go on in Shetland. He said: “While I find these acts pathetic and absurd, my wife is rightly indignant and extremely angry that someone is creeping around our house in such a cowardly fashion under the cover of darkness.”
He believes the nooses are the work of someone skilled in the use of ropes. Pinpointing the culprit could be difficult because Mr Peterson has ruffled a lot of feathers in the business and political community in recent years during what he calls his “investigations into sleaze”. He has been a long-standing critic of the decisions of councillors and the Shetland Development Trust and his actions include the relentless pursuit of information about the loss of community funds he estimates at £35 million in recent years in a string of bad businesses.
Asked if the intimidation had put him off pursuing his investigations, he said: “No, not at all, if that’s the purpose. It might just be somebody that hates me.
Much of his probing has related to the local salmon consortium SSG Seafoods, which went bust in 2003 with the loss of at least £7 million pounds of public funds. He is also interested in the subsequent loss of further millions in some of the consortium’s member farms and in other fish-related businesses, particularly Shetland SeaFish, set up by the council in 1999 to try to save whitefish processing in Shetland.
He has pursued various complaints against SIC chief executive Morgan Goodlad, convener Sandy Cluness and the former chairman of Shetland Development Trust Gussie Angus. He managed to get Mr Goodlad censured by the ombudsman in 2007 for failing to declare an interest while giving advice about an investment in SSG Seafoods. There was also censure for Mr Cluness at the hands of the Standards Commission for failing to declare £15,000 in payments from the Smyril Line and the Shetland Fisheries Training Centre Trust.
Mr Peterson has a number of ongoing investigations and is currently involved in a protracted attempt to gain access to various council documents – under arrangements suitable to him – relating to a string of defunct companies including SSG Seafoods, Shetland Offshore Environmental Services, Johnson Seafarms, Hoove Salmon, Atlantic Shellfish, Bressay Salmon and Maritime Farming Enterprises. Other lines of inquiry relate to Viking Energy and the Scatsta Airport redevelopment aid to the oil industry.
Requests last year under freedom of information legislation were not dealt with by the SIC inside the required time limits and when the Scottish Information Commissioner investigated the failure the council had to apologise to Mr Peterson and explain its tardiness. The commissioner ruled last month there would be no action against the local authority, which has made a new offer to Mr Peterson in relation to the reports it will let him see.
The police in Lerwick confirmed Mr Peterson had approached them about the noose incidents. Detective Sergeant Lindsay Tulloch said he had given him advice about what to do.