By NEIL RIDDELL
An extraordinary and highly personalised spat has broken out over the ownership status of Forvik, the small island off Papa Stour which maverick udal law campaigner Stuart Hill claims to have acquired and proclaimed as a crown dependency last year.
The 2.5-acre island was originally owned by Papa Stour resident Mark King, who told The Shetland Times this week that he wanted to set the record straight over the situation. He said Mr Hill had run up sizeable debts and misused the island and also claimed the campaigner’s behaviour was having a detrimental effect on his health after debt collectors began contacting him.
Mr King, who says he suffers from a form of depression and was in the middle of a bipolar “high” when he agreed the sale of the island, which Mr Hill is using as a part of a campaign seeking to prove that Shetland is not legally part of the UK, asserts that the island will not belong to him until he has paid for it.
Almost exactly a year after the transfer of the island took place, Mr King now claims the land registry, the Crofters Commission and the SIC do not recognise Mr Hill as Forvik’s legitimate owner. “I haven’t sold him an island,” he said. “He made out that he had bought the island. I would like for starters for that to be corrected. Mr Hill doesn’t own the island. I own the island until it’s fully paid for.”
Mr King said he had repeatedly asked Mr Hill to stop selling people £60 citizenships and said he disapproved of what he was using Forvik for, but had been ignored, and that he has been receiving invoices to his address in Papa Stour from companies seeking to recover debts accrued by Mr Hill in previous ventures.
“He tells people he lives on the island but he doesn’t live there,” said Mr King. “I have had enough. I want him to stop and I want him to stop taking people’s money under false pretences. I’m very disappointed Mr Hill has gone about doing what he’s doing, getting the money off people, £60 a time for citizenships. I’ve written to him telling him to stop his actions. I said this is affecting my health. I’m not coping with the pressure of it – debt collectors coming looking for him. It’s affecting me.”
Mr Hill said he was “disappointed” that Mr King had “seen fit to abuse confidentiality and friendship by making these allegations” but insisted the island does belong to him and he has no intention of giving it, or the project, up. The transfer of the island came about, he said, after Mr King had initially been supportive of his campaign.
“He was interested in supporting my efforts to expose Shetland’s true status and we had discussed the idea of using his island as a vehicle to support that effort,” he said. “The island had no commercial value to the croft and was if anything a liability.
“At an appropriate time in April 2008 he decided to give me the island, which was done by means of a document signed by us both in front of two independent witnesses. The island was a gift and I have never pretended it was anything else. As far as I was concerned it was done in good faith – he was the owner of the property and gave no indication of being in a fragile mental condition. It seems he now wants to renege on the deal.”
Mr King said the document in question was “not worth the paper it’s written on”, that he had had nothing but “grief and hassle” over the whole affair and said he didn’t know why Mr Hill didn’t simply “go and find another island” to continue his campaign. He added that he still feels there is a “strong case” for Mr Hill’s contentions over who owns Shetland, but that he had gone too far by erecting a building on a site of special scientific interest and he fears the building has disturbed otters on Forvik.
Mr King said he had received invoices addressed to Mr Hill from companies related to his Shetland Independent Newsletter venture, which he briefly published and delivered to every household in the isles before incurring financial difficulties, including two separate five-figure debts.
By way of explanation, Mr Hill said he had been able to pay all local creditors but was unable to clear the printing bill so he made an arrangement with Manchester firm Calderprint “to pay as and when I was able”.
“The money is owed by a limited company, which I could have simply liquidated and walked away from. However, I accepted the moral obligation and agreed to pay the amount as and when I can,” he said. “This arrangement is still in place.”
Going further back, the eccentric Englishman had a failed business venture in America having set up an architectural metalwork business, raising £25,000 by liquidating all his pensions and life insurances, leaving him “very exposed” by its failure which he described as “a major factor in the breakup of my marriage”. “I made the mistake of using my personal credit card for travel expenses and this left me with a personal liability for what was really a company debt. I did my best to repay the money, but finally gave up an unequal struggle in 2006.”
He said Mr King had been aware of his difficulties and suggested he could use his Papa Stour address for those communications, but now Mr Hill says Mr King has failed to pass those communications on to him and “seems to have taken it upon himself to open mail addressed to me”. He said Mr King had been “instrumental” in giving him advice prior to setting up his newsletter but “ceased to have any involvement after I found his Walter Mitty attitude prone to cause problems”.
Mr Hill went on to insist that everything he had done in relation to Forvik had been above board and that, having invested his own and other peoples’ money in the project, he is “not willing to put that in jeopardy by abandoning it”.
He has spent the past few months trying to provoke legal action against him by the Crown by deliberately withholding his personal income tax and the VAT from one of his businesses and by reminding the council that he has not secured any planning permission for the construction of an official residence in Forvik.
“I have however engaged very publicly in some ‘illegal’ activities designed to get UK authorities to explain how they derive their authority in Shetland,” he said. “In a strange way I’m grateful to Mr King for airing my dirty washing. When things really hot up, I will not be surprised if the authorities try to blacken my name, so this is one less piece of ammunition for them.”
It is Mr Hill’s openly-stated intention to force the UK state to prove that Forvik, and Shetland, are legally held by Scotland and the UK. He claims there is no evidence that Shetland was transferred from Danish/Norwegian ownership after it was pawned to the King of Scotland nearly 540 years ago, though his contention is routinely dismissed by historians.
Referring to the behaviour of his former friend Mr King, Mr Hill said: “He says he was on a ‘high’ when he gave me the island – it’s taken a while to reach a low where he feels the need to object. There was no hint of a problem when our paths crossed about a month ago on Papa Stour.
“The only time he has asked me to stop my activities was during a recent phone call when he told me he was in trouble with a couple of government agencies who were making the assumption that he had received some financial benefit from the transfer. I can understand that he would find that difficult and offered to help by making a sworn statement that no money had passed hands, as indeed was the case, but had no reply.”
He added: “At some point he must take responsibility for himself, or find a safe place where others can take it for him. Many of us have some kind of skeleton in the cupboard – I will not rattle his.”
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April 2008: Acquires Forwick Holm from Papa Stour resident Mark King.
June 2008: Re-christens the island as Forvik and declares it a Crown dependency, urging Shetlanders to join with him in setting up a “true and just administration”. The UK government responds that Forvik is an “integral” part of the United Kingdom. He generates huge waves of publicity and global interest, including from some unsavoury extremist quarters.
July 2008: Invites the Queen to make a state visit to Forvik, though she has yet to take up his invitation. Refuses to pay personal income tax or VAT for one of his businesses in attempt to provoke legal action from the Crown. Asks companies to enter into negotiations for rights to oil exploration in Forvik waters, claiming the seabed up to a 200-mile limit.
September 2008: Self-crafted vessel loses power and drifts 300 yards in choppy seas in Papa sound, sparking another maritime rescue for “Captain Calamity”. Announces he will not be residing in Forvik during the winter months for his own safety.