Stagecoach boss takes on tenants in boundary dispute on Scottish country estate

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The Independent Online

One of Britain's richest women tried to "remove" a family from a rented cottage on her 19,500-acre Highlands estate in a dispute over their use of a barn and a parking space next to their home.

Ann Gloag, 61, who with her brother Brian Souter, founded the Stagecoach bus company, is seeking an order to stop Ian Hamilton and his wife, Patricia, from using land outside their three-bedroom cottage on the Beaufort Castle Estate near Inverness.

The couple and their son had used the outbuildings, a car port and a strip of grass since they moved to the Coach House in 1991 ­ four years before Mrs Gloag, estimated to have a personal fortune of £250m, bought the estate.

Inverness Sheriff Court was told that the first the Hamiltons heard of Mrs Gloag's objections was in 2000 when the family received a solicitors' letter threatening legal action for the use of a barn attached to the Coach House, where they had stored garden furniture.

The hearing was told that the general manager of the estate, Giles Foster, also wrote to the Hamiltons at the request of Mrs Gloag asking them to move out and making an offer of alternative accommodation.

The family, who are protected tenants, refused. Mr Foster told the court his interpretation of the letter was that Mrs Gloag wanted to remove them from the house.

Speaking before the hearing, Mr Hamilton, 58, a retired police officer who now works as a financial adviser, said: "This has caused myself, my wife and, in particular, our 14-year-old son considerable stress. We are amazed one of the richest women in the country would go so far as to try to take such an issue to court."

The Hamiltons had moved into the former estate worker's cottage, just 400 yards from Beaufort Castle, when it was still owned by Lord Lovat, head of the Lovat-Fraser clan and a hero of the Second World War.

The 83-year-old peer died after outliving his two sons. Simon, 54, died in 1994 during a drag hunt on the estate, and Andrew, 42, was killed days earlier when he was gored by a buffalo in Africa.

Beaufort Castle, the 23-bedroom seat of the clan for 500 years, was sold to Mrs Gloag for about £1.3m in 1995. Simon Fraser, who had been in charge of running the estate before his death, was said to have left debts of £7m.

Mr Foster told the hearing, which is due to last five days, that he was certain he had told the Hamiltons they were not entitled to use any part of the estate other than the cottage and small gardens to the front and back of the property.

The court heard the Hamiltons had maintained an area beyond that. It is claimed that the family also "illegally encroached" on Mrs Gloag's private land by storing vehicles in a car port next to their cottage and using the barn.

David Train, a former caretaker on the estate, denied he had given permission for the garden perimeter to be extended. He said: "There is only one person on that estate that gives any permission and that's Mrs Gloag."

Mrs Gloag, who is a former nursing sister, and her brother founded the Stagecoach business in Perth in 1980 with just two buses.

The firm became one of Britain's largest transport companies and Mrs Gloag maintains a 25 per cent share. Her personal wealth was dented last year when Stagecoach wrote off a £575m loss from an American venture.

She now dedicates her energy to charitable projects in the developing world after ending her day-to-day involvement in Stagecoach.

The case continues.