A man has been convicted of vandalism of North Bridge Stores in Cunningsburgh in March.
Pensioner Stuart Hill, of Ocraquoy, Cunningsburgh, had damaged the stores, owned by Michael Inkster, as part of a publicity stunt to air his political beliefs that Shetland was not part of Scotland.
Lerwick Sheriff Court today heard from four police witness, two of whom had arrested Hill outside the shop as he was changing its locks on Ist March, as well as Mr Inkster. There was also video evidence taken from a tape recorded by Hill which showed him removing a plywood cover from the side door and grinding off a pad bolt before entering the building.
When police were dispatched to the stores about 12.15 pm, they found Hill leaving the building which he had “cordoned off” with yellow and black tape. He had also erected signs proclaiming ownership of the building and warning people not to trespass on the grounds outside.
Hill, who claimed to be the “elected” acting first minister of the “organisation” and “nation” of the Sovereign People of Shetland, had phoned police control in Inverness to tell them he was repossessing the shop and asked them to send officers in case there was any breach of the peace. He also told them he did not know who the owner of the building was.
The shop had been repossessed by the Royal Bank of Scotland and put on auction in Glasgow where it was purchased by Mr Inkster who received the keys in October 2015. Mr Hill had also put in a bid for the building that he later withdrew.
He denied that he was guilty of vandalism as he was the “rightful owner” of the building, but was found guilty by Sheriff Philip Mann of “wilfully or recklessly destroying or damaging property” by removing secured plyboard sheeting, cutting a padbolt and removing a padlock, drilling a hole in an external door and attempting to fit a Yale lock and attaching a flag pole to the outside of North Bridge Stores.
When asked by procurator fiscal Duncan MacKenzie by what right ownership attached to Hill, he replied that he had made an overall claim to the land and seabed of Shetland on behalf of the people of Shetland.
Mr MacKenzie asked: “How arrogant are you?” to which Mr Hill replied “I beg your pardon?”
Mr Hill claimed “allodial title” to the building, but Mr MacKenzie said that he could just as well claim allodial title to Mr Hill’s house and come and do anything to it. “How would you like that?” he asked.
Mr MacKenzie accused him of pulling a publicity stunt to draw attention to his political beliefs. “I understand that you hold these beliefs sincerely but you overstep the mark when you start interfering with other people’s property,” he added.
At an earlier hearing on Tuesday, the Sheriff had rejected Hill’s attempt to get the Sheriff to “recuse” himself on the grounds that he would not give Hill a fair trial. Today, the Sheriff ordered a man, who appeared to be a supporter of Hill’s, from the courtroom after the man had attempted to distribute documents during the trial.
Sheriff Mann said that he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that damage was done to the property, that is was done wilfully and that Hill had known either that the building was owned by Mr Inkster, who he had contacted earlier by letter, or that he did not know who owned it, as he had claimed in his call to police.
The Sheriff said it was “not the crime of the century” but it was an act carried out for “political purposes”, though this was not taken account of in the sentence, which was purely on the grounds of the vandalism charge. He fined Hill £125 to be paid at the rate of £5 per month.