Coming from a working class background I did not need a solicitor till I was 32 years of age. In those 32 years I had served an apprenticeship as a shipwright in Rosyth Dockyard and then spent a few years in the merchant navy before working as a plater in the construction industry. So it was not until 1978 when I decided to form my own business that my experience of solicitors began.
Searching the local telephone directory I rang the first one I came to and spoke to Alison Bruce who headed the family firm W. & A. S. Bruce, Solicitors, Dunfermline. This firm --for a very short time--acted as my legal representatives.
Although initially in awe of Dunfermline's professional class I soon figured out that these business people, lawyers, accountants, shopkeepers etc, were in the main a clique of middle class people from a similar background who ran the town with little or no competition from outsiders, and did very nicely in the process. I got the strong impression that these people looked down on someone like me with a sort of amused contempt. As if a working class man intent on having a go at business was to be humoured but not taken seriously.
My impression was reinforced by the patronising Mrs Bruce, who told me when setting up the articles of association of my company that it was her practice to take one share in each company she set up, so that she had a personal interest in it. I remember feeling uneasy about this as I had no lack of confidence in my own ability and wanted to do things my way 100%. Alison Bruce struck me as being an arrogant woman, but her high opinion of her ability was not matched in practice and I ended up taking the forms from her office and registering my company at Companies House in Edinburgh myself.
In the same year that I formed my company Alison Bruce's son Gifford became a member of the Law Society of Scotland. In the years that followed my company grew into a successful steel fabrication/engineering company and though no longer with the Bruce firm --I had jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire with an Edinburgh law firm central to the Magic Circle Affair--I periodically received mail from Gifford Bruce enquiring into the health of my business and demanding annual accounts. As W. & A. S. Bruce was no longer my solicitors I politely told him to mind his own business.
However this did not deter the bold Gifford and on one occasion he even called at the company's offices in Cowdenbeath with similar demands and on yet another occasion he approached me in a bar in Dunfermline still insisting that he had some entitlement with my company and threatening to report me to the Inland Revenue, who he said he had influence with.
I considered Gifford Bruce to be a blowhard, a chancer and a bully and when in 1990, I read on the front page of the Dunfermline Press that he had been found guilty of professional misconduct and fined £2000 by The Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal who found that he had written to former clients "in terms which were intemperate and threatening and unbecoming of a solicitor", I was not surprised. Having experienced this side of Gifford Bruce's nature it merely confirmed what I already knew and reinforced my low opinion of him.
Similarly my instinctive wariness towards his mother was shared by others as evidenced by a story about a family who were deprived of their inheritance from a lady relative by the actions of her doctor aided by her lawyer. The story entitled "Riddle of Mansion Estate, Changed Will and Missing Family Treasure" was published by the Scottish Sunday Express in 2009 and tells of a dying woman disinheriting her family to the benefit of her doctor and lawyer.
Anyway my negative experiences with the solicitors of the Bruce family seemed to be a thing of the past until recently when I read two articles in my local paper the Dunfermline Press (I understand similar coverage was in the Courier) dealing with a proposed sports stadium development in Inverkeithing. The first was entitled "Inverkeithing in line for £5 million sports academy backed by Sir Alex" and the second was entitled "Academy would be based on clubs such as Ajax".
The gist of the articles was that a trust referred to as the Norrie McCathie Benevolent Fund, and the Norrie McCathie Sports Facility Trust, which have Sir Alex Ferguson as a patron have plans to build a £5 million indoor sports stadium on land at Spencerfield, Inverkeithing. This land was designated greenbelt in Fife Council's plans but a developer, called the Alfred Stewart Property Foundation had agreed to make a gift of the land on which to build a stadium, provided that Fife council re-designate the green belt for building and allow the developer to build 450 houses.
It was said by Roano Pierotti for the developers in the articles that the benefit to the town of Inverkeithing would be twofold in that "because ASP [Alf Stewart Properties] is also a trust, the profits from the housing also go back into the town". The downside of this proposal was that if the council did not agree to re-designate the land then the developer would walk away and the chance of an indoor stadium/sports academy would be lost to the people.
I am all for the provision of indoor sports facilities for youngsters, but I didn't like the bullying tone of the articles and in a letter to the editor said so, adding that I had asked Sir Alex what he thought of his name being linked with such threats. My letter to the Press was printed and was in turn answered on behalf of the Norrie McCathie Sports Facility group--said to be a "not for profit charitable trust"--by John Wilson who questioned the accuracy of my letter while claiming that Sir Alex Ferguson's name would never be used to promote any idea of wrongdoing as I had claimed.
Stung by John Wilson's criticism I looked into the groups involved in the project and the first one I looked at the Norrie McCathie Sports Facility Trust was in fact a dormant limited company with the contact address being an empty house in Dunfermline. I contacted John Wilson from the mobile number he had left in his DP letter and he assured me that Sir Alex was 100% behind the project and it was backed by reputable people including solicitor Gifford Bruce, who he said was a trustee of the Alfred Stewart Trust. Far from reassuring me this last piece of information alarmed me.
I soon received confirmation from Sir Alex's solicitors that he knew nothing of the Inverkeithing project and would not condone bullying. In view of the fact that Gifford Bruce was said to be behind the Alfred Stewart Trust I searched Companies House and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) only to find out that there was no company entitled Alfred Stewart Trust but of the two companies that were named after Mr Stewart, one of them Alfred Stewart Property Foundation Limited (ASPFL, formerly an off the shelf company called Edenpeak) carried a note tacked on to the end of its Articles of Association which claimed the company had charitable aims and all profits it made must be handed over to the Alfred Stewart Trust, which it was said had "received agreement in principle from OSCR to be registered for charitable purposes."
In light of my negative experiences with Gifford Bruce I made John Wilson and Sir Alex Ferguson's solicitor aware of my concerns regarding the status of the Alfred Stewart Trust.
John Wilson then asked me to meet him in Dunfermline to discuss his project and I agreed to do this. I know John and do not doubt his ability to manage a project of the size proposed. John has spent a lifetime doing similar and I don't doubt his wish to be involved in this project or his ability to put together a finance package, but what I did not like--and told him so--was the spin that accompanied the press release whereby Sir Alex and the charitable aims of the Alfred Stewart Property Foundation were used to make a case with the option of take it or leave it. John knew of my doubts re the charitable status of Alfred Stewart Trust, but rather than back the developer--as he had done in the press--he now took the view that he was not interested in them other than to get the land from he needed.
I queried OSCR further on the status of the developer and eventually was informed that the Alfred Stewart Trust did not have charitable status and this had been refused on 27 May 2010 because they did not meet the charity test. This concerned me because though Alfred Stewart was well known and respected for his generous gifts to cancer charities and hospitals, there appeared to be no hint from the information on companies bearing his name that his would continue. Neither Alfred Stewart company had obvious charitable purposes other than the note in the Articles I refer to above which OSCR's Compliance Officer intimated would be removed. Both companies had in common three directors, lawyers Gifford Bruce and Clive Franks and surveyor Roano Pierotti.
Alfred Stewart was a remarkable self-made man who worked his way up through the building trade to become a property developer/builder owning most of the farm land surrounding Dunfermline. To the south he owned Castlandhill & Hilton Farms (bequeathed to daughter Linden), to the west Pitconochie Farm (bequeathed to daughter Leonie) and to the east Duloch Farm (owned by his pension fund).
The Duloch Farm site, which has already been extensively developed, is currently the subject of a plea for yet more development by Alfred Stewart Properties Ltd (ASPL). ASPL have objected to the Draft Dunfermline & West Fife Local Plan in terms that there should be housing allowed on Protected Open Land they own at Duloch Park going all the way to the M9 motorway.
Alfred Stewart's will was specific in his wish that all of his estate go to the Alfred Stewart Trust to be established for medical and/or community purposes subject only to 3 specific exceptions. The exceptions were 1/ £2,000 per month for life to his secretary and 2 & 3 A local farm each to his two daughters Linden and Leonie.
However on 10 January 2008 he firstly appointed new executors (Gifford Bruce and Roano Pierotti), and then on 2 April 2008, just days before he died, he wrote his daughters out of the will and decreed that all his pension fund would go to the Alfred Stewart Trust, which was to be established. According to the English probate specialist company Steeles Law such an act can be considered a "suspicious circumstance" by a court and give cause for disappointed family members to challenge the will.
These actions certainly caused raised eyebrows and an article in the Sunday Mail after his death detailed this astonishing volte-face, which "cut kids out of £7million will days before his death". What the article did not say was that Alfred Stewart must have been confused when he so dramatically changed the executors and terms of his will made originally in 2005.
The Sunday Mail article also made the mistake of accepting that there was a charity entitled the Alfred Stewart Trust and this mistake was propagated in the articles printed in the Dunfermline Press and the Courier & Advertiser even after I pointed out that there was no such entity. Perhaps my strongest rebuttal of the supposed charitable status of the Alfred Stewart Trust was made on the 12th August when, through the letters section of the Dunfermline Press I again rubbished this claim and named Gifford Bruce as being notorious in Dunfermline for his past indiscretions. Ironically in the same issue of the Dunfermline Press the spokesperson for the Alfred Stewart Property Foundation persisted with the myth of the Alfred Stewart Trust.
On the day my letter and the article were published I was contacted by Kirsty Leiper of PR firm Mandate Scotland asking me to meet her and Roano Pierotti. I agreed and met them at the King Malcolm hotel in Dunfermline on Monday 23rd August. Roano Pierotti began by explaining the benefits that Inverkeithing could gain by being involved with the Alfred Stewart Trust and I advised him that there was no such a thing except perhaps in embryonic form as an aspiration that he may have. I also explained that the push to bully the people of Inverkeithing into agreeing a green belt re-zoning had been ill thought out and misleading as it contained spin, half truths and downright lies.
I listened to what Mr Pierotti had to say--in short that he had now employed a top firm of Edinburgh solicitors to obtain charity status and his group continued to support the Barbara Stewart Cancer Fund (Dunfermline) at Ninewells--and after a frank discussion I took my leave stating that if Alfred Stewart's proven track record of charitable giving was replicated by the people now acting as his trustees/executors then they would have my support in principle, but I would never back any company that had Gifford Bruce as a director. I felt sorry for Kirsty Leiper, the young Mandate Scotland PR woman who was simply putting the best possible spin on what she was being told, but she was not being told the truth and I put this to her at the meeting and as a follow up by e-mail.
On Thursday 26th August 2010 the Dunfermline Press published my letter which again stressed the lack of charitable status of the Alfred Stewart Trust and by good fortune my assertions were endorsed by a letter from Martin Tyson, Head of charity services, OSCR, which unequivocally stated what I had been saying all along: "The Alfred Stewart Trust is not a charity"!
Events with the Norrie McCathie charity moved on and in August two new directors were appointed to replace two who had resigned. One of the resignations was John Watson-the founder member and teammate of Norrie McCathie-who was replaced by Alan Kenney who was said to have been a trustee back in June when the article about Spencerfield first appeared. Then in October Sir Alex Ferguson cut his links with the sports academy project. Sir Alex's solicitor, Les Dalgarno, said, "He's not going to be involved any more. He was originally asked to be a patron and said 'yes' because he likes the idea of anything that promotes youth football but he never knew anything about a planning application. "He's never supported this application and would never get involved in anything like that."It seems unfair that his good name and goodwill have been used in this way if that's what has happened." John Wilson declined to comment.
I didn't know Alfred Stewart having met him on one occasion only, but on 11 July 2007 Lord Reed in an Opinion in the cause of Macdonald Estates PLC V Regenesis (2005) Dunfermline Ltd stated with regards to Mr Alfred Stewart's testimony at previous hearings before him in the High Court: "Mr Stewart was an elderly man whose recollection of events was often vague or at odds with the contemporaneous records, and I did not consider him an entirely reliable witness."
These comments and others in the Opinion refer to Mr Stewart's "somewhat confused" testimony even though it was in relation to specific knowledge about events which Mr Stewart should have been fully aware of as principal of the company Regenesis (2005) Dunfermline Ltd.
Surely this begs the question as to the soundness of Mr Stewart's judgement when he disinherited his two daughters in April 2008 only days before he lost his long and debilitating battle against leukaemia, in a similar way that there must be doubt about the state of mind of the alcoholic Sheilah Anderson when she cut out her family?
It is clear that Ena Cochran one of the disinherited in the Northcliff affair thinks that she lost her inheritance due to the actions of a doctor, a policeman, and a lawyer taking advantage of her relative's confused state. Ena was also sure that when Alison Bruce died Gifford Bruce took over the distribution of the estate and gave shares to non-family members.
But perhaps she is wrong and perhaps some dying people get a near death experience similar to the epiphany that Christians experience. Could a dying person experience similar feelings to those of the devout Christian who seeks the blessings of their church before dying, but instead places, not priests or parsons, but professional people on a pedestal, and sees them as being endowed with the benefit of exceptional perception and wisdom?
Wisdom that includes giving advice that may be to the disadvantage of those blood relatives of the dying, but is for the greater, common good?
Do the dying realise that lawyers and doctors are the true personification of Christian values and as such the people most deserving of being entrusted with money and other material gifts for them to dispense as they see fit? Or are the dying simply vulnerable as they are past caring about material things and simply want to rest in peace?
Ena Cochran's suspicions that professional people robbed her of her rightful inheritance are not fanciful or without precedent when one remembers how Dr Harold Shipman conned dying patients out of their money. Could this happen with Scottish professionals?
It is well documented that lawyers in such circumstances can act appallingly even in Scotland. Consider the lawyer Andrew Page Drummond, who took advantage of the confused mind of a dying centenarian client to rob her of money. This case proved that lawyers are capable of manoeuvring themselves into a position of trust where they might persuade confused and vulnerable dying people to change their wills to benefit non-family members such as lawyers, policemen and doctors as in the case of Sheilah Anderson.
Anyway, all of that is mere speculation and my main concern now is about the wishes clearly stated in the will of Alfred Stewart, as there is not a charity to carry them out. And while any limited company can make promises to do this or that for the good of the people of the Dunfermline community,--as the Dunfermline Press reports promised to the people of Inverkeithing--there would seem to be nothing to compel them to do so. Especially if the company in question--ASPFL (formerly Edenpeak)--states its aims as being to give all profits to a non-existent charitable entity--the Alfred Stewart Trust--,which was considered by the Scottish charity regulator to be unfit for charitable purposes.
It is within my personal experience that an ingenious lawyer using the discretion granted to a trustee or executor can, within the law, turn black into white and overturn the terms of even the most specific of bequests.
That said, if the specific wishes of the late Alfred Stewart's will are to be carried out then those entrusted with doing this, Gifford Bruce, Clive Franks, and Roano Pierotti, should not be looking to profit from a green-belt land grab accompanied by threats. Instead they should be addressing their charitable medical and/or community obligations, the latter which might include purchasing a piece of derelict land and gifting it for community development, or even building an indoor sports stadium for the people of Dunfermline. Their threat that they will not give a gift of land unless they are allowed to build 450 houses--and in the process destroy Inverkeithing & Dalgety Bay's green belt--must be repugnant to the wishes of the late Alfred Stewart. Or for that matter to any charitable entity.
There is no shortage of derelict sites in the Dunfermline area which could provide the land to build a stadium that would benefit the local community, which would show the developers in a new light and enhance Alfred Stewart's unquestionable charitable reputation, which at the moment is being dragged through the mud by the property development companies that bear his name.
Update: One of the lawyers and one of the sons of the late Alfred Stewart featured above have locked horns in a High Court action.
Garry Stewart and others have petitioned the court to take action against Clive Franks and others.
The basis of the legal challenge is that Alfred Stewart was not of sound mind when he changed his will and the court should grant an interim interdict immediately to stop the will being executed.
The executors of Alfred Stewart's will, Clive Richard Michael Franks, Gifford William Bruce, Roano Dorian Pierotti, and Mr Stewart's friend and lover Fiona Dubois Hay-who under the terms of the will is a recipient of £2,000.00 per month for life-are defending this legal challenge.
The details of this challenge, which is to be heard in Edinburgh on the 6th and 7th July 2011 appeared in the Mail on Sunday (Scottish edition) of 12 June 2011 and then The (Dundee) Courier the following day.
In the event, the children of the late Alfred Stewart were not able to persuade Lord Brailsford that Alfred Stewart's testamentary capacity was impaired and the will should be set aside. The Daily Mail, and Scots Courts website give details.
Footnote: I am pleased that the Alfred Stewart Trust eventually obtained charitable status, and look forward to seeing the Dunfermline area benefit now that the terms of the will of the late Alfred have been confirmed following legal challenge.
It does seem odd however that in 2007, while suffering from a debilitating disease Alfred Stewart’s testimony, was described by Lord Reed as being unreliable and vague while Lord Brailsford now endorses his testamentary capacity- at the time he changed his will by codicils, in January 2008 and on the April 2008 - just weeks before he died.
We will watch with interest as the charitable works of the late Alfred Stewart continue and will not be slow to praise or otherwise as the case may be.