Islanders win hearing on tolls

Battle on Skye: Campaigners appear in court for non-payment of bridge charge
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The Independent Online
JOHN ARLIDGE

Scotland Correspondent

More than 50 protesters led by pipers marched to a Highland court yesterday to support 200 people who appeared before a Sheriff charged with refusing to pay the tolls on the controversial Skye bridge.

As the anti-toll demonstrators - many dressed in kilts and carrying banners and flags - made their way to Dingwall Sheriff Court, north of Inverness, the pipers played Flora MacDonald's refrain "Over The Sea To Skye".

In court, the protesters packed the public benches and were warned against disrupting proceedings before Sheriff James Fraser entered. As the first defendant, John Anderson, of Skye, took his place in the dock, there was a loud cheer and clapping. A court official said: "When the Sheriff comes in I do not want any spontaneous clapping. This is a court of law not the London Palladium."

Neil Murray QC, representing 140 people charged with non-payment, lodged a special motion questioning the competency of the charges, the first under the New Roads and Streets Act 1991. He asked the court to fix a date for a full discussion of the Government's legal right to levy charges on the privately financed pounds 25m bridge. Sheriff Fraser delighted protesters when he upheld the motion and set aside 1 and 8 March.

Some 187 islanders have persistently refused to pay the pounds 4.30 bridge tolls since the half-mile span between the Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin opened last October. They argue that the charges - the highest in Europe - are excessive in a remote, rural community.

After the court hearing, Duncan Burd, a Skye solicitor who is acting for the protesters, said: "It all went a lot smoother than we ... thought it would. We are confident of getting our point across in the legal debate."

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