'Barmy' inhabitants force laird from Scottish isle: Eigg owner says violent campaign has made him sell. John Arlidge reports

A LAIRD is to sell his Hebridean island because, he says, some of the inhabitants are 'rotten, dangerous and totally barmy'.

Keith Schellenberg says he has been forced to sell up after a campaign of violent intimidation from among the 80 people on Eigg in the Inner Hebrides.

He accuses 'drunken hippies and drop-outs' of unfairly branding him a despot.

Islanders reject his claims and say he is a 'mean-spirited playboy' who has forced them to live in primitive conditions 'to satisfy his nostalgia for the 1920s'. Relations between local people and Mr Schellenberg soured this month after a mysterious fire at his home which destroyed a 1920s Rolls-Royce. Police suspect arson but no one has been charged.

One month earlier the tyres of his car were slashed, his boat drained of fuel the night before he was due to sail, and his dead mother's home burgled. Mr Schellenberg says he fears for his safety. 'It is a very worrying climate. It was once the laird's factor who went about burning people out. Now it seems it's OK to burn out the laird himself.'

Mr Schellenberg, a former Olympic bobsleigher turned businessman, bought Eigg in 1974 to preserve the island's wildlife and restore its listed buildings.

Locals say that the atmosphere on the island deteriorated about 10 years ago, when he began to neglect houses, closed the island's community hall and refused to grant long-term property leases.

One resident who has lived on Eigg for over 30 years, said: 'We lost our trust in him and now that he has slandered us so badly following the fire, the best thing for him is to sell the island and leave us alone. We want him out.' Mr Schellenberg, 64, admits that the community hall has been closed in the evenings and that one lease has not been granted but, he says, the moves only affect a handful of islanders. 'People have over-reacted,' he said, adding: 'I have tried to conserve one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Reluctantly, I have decided it is no longer worth the effort.'

Eigg could fetch as much as pounds 1m and Mr Schellenberg has already received several inquiries. But despite his enthusiasm to sell, he says he will warn prospective buyers about the 'lawlessness' they may encounter.

He said: 'I'd like to make a quick sale but I will not just flog the place to some unsuspecting chap who thinks the place is full of Highland gentry.'

(Photograph omitted)