Tory MP fined pounds 200 for waving pickaxe

John Arlidge Scotland Correspondent
Monday 11 September 1995 23:02

Allan Stewart, the former Scottish Office minister, was fined pounds 200 yesterday for breach of the peace after he waved a pickaxe at anti-motorway protesters.

The Conservative MP for Eastwood told Paisley Sheriff Court he had "presented a pick-axe" at a group of demonstrators protesting against the planned M77 motorway in Glasgow last February. Stewart's son, Gareth, and his friend David Clow, both 17, pleaded guilty to possessing loaded air pistols without lawful authority in the same incident. Sentencing of them was deferred for one year.

Stewart, 53, known in political circles as the "Beast of Eastwood", resigned as industry minister at the Scottish Office after the incident which occurred after a family lunch. Denying allegations at the time that he had been drinking heavily, he described the meal as "a normal Sunday lunch - a gin and tonic and a glass of wine."

As Stewart inspected tree-felling work with representatives from the contractors, Wimpey, he was confronted by a group of protesters. He picked up the pickaxe, which was lying on the ground, and held it up. At the time, he insisted he acted in self-defence and Strathclyde Police launched an investigation into an alleged assault against him.

The MP insisted the demonstrators had "rushed" him. "There was a pickaxe lying there," he said.

"I picked up the pick-axe - first of all to avoid anybody else picking it up and secondly in possible self-defence. There was then a robust discussion ... I felt scared. The situation was extremely unpleasant."

But the demonstrators and Scottish Labour MPs questioned his version of events. Lindsay Keenan, a member of the environmental group, Earth First, who witnessed the incident, claimed Stewart had waved the pickaxe and that he had felt threatened.

Stewart dismissed Mr Keenan's charge at the time and rejected suggestions that he had acted illegally. He ridiculed claims made in the Commons by Mike Watson, Labour MP for Glasgow Central, that his behaviour was "loutish and unbecoming of a minister of the Crown".

In May he pleaded not guilty to a charge of brandishing the pickaxe in a letter to Paisley Sheriff Court but yesterday he changed his plea to admit the reduced charge.

After the verdict, Stewart said, "inadvertently breached the law" while acting under "considerable provocation". "That is a matter of great regret and in respect of which I apologise."

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