My First Lawyer

1978. I enter the business community.

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 H. M. Dockyard Rosyth, 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 common, 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 the likes of 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 too 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 100% my way. Alison Bruce struck me as being an arrogant woman, but her high opinion of her ability was not matched in practice and after much delay I ended up taking the company start-up forms from her office and registering my company, Kingdom Engineering, myself at Companies House, Edinburgh.

In the same year that I formed my company Alison Bruce’s son Gifford became a member of the Law Society of Scotland.

Kingdom Engineering takes off.

In the years that followed my company grew into a successful steel fabrication/engineering facility 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 £2,000 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.  LINK

Having experienced the ugly side of Gifford Bruce’s nature the news about him merely confirmed what I already knew and reinforced my low opinion of him. I got on with running my business and tried to forget about the Bruce lawyers.

Stories of my first lawyer surface in my retirement.

Retired for some years, after having successfully ran my business for 25 years, my instinctive wariness towards my first lawyer, Mrs. Alison Bruce, was recalled to mind when I read a newspaper story about a woman, Ena Cochran, who believed her family had been deprived of their inheritance from a lady relative by the actions of the lady’s doctor, aided by her lawyer.

The story, entitledRiddle of Mansion Estate, Changed Will and Missing Family Treasure was published by the Scottish Sunday Express in 2009, and told of a dying woman disinheriting her family to the benefit of her doctor and lawyer. The lawyer in question being Mrs Bruce. LINK

Ena Cochran contacted me and we shared our experiences of Mrs Alison Bruce and her son Gifford, and I wished her luck in her fight to gain justice, in what was now a historical matter.

I don’t go looking for windmills to tilt at, but if one comes into view…

With my negative experiences of the solicitors of the Bruce family seemingly a thing of the past I put them out of my mind and went about my pastime in retirement of tackling any perceived injustices in local/national affairs and the common good in general.

My reasoning regards a person’s civic duty is that the bad guys looking to rob the public usually have good PR/Iawyers, so the rest of us civic-minded citizens have the task of questioning matters that seem to be contrary to the public interest. If this entails pricking the pompous so much the better. Friends have called me a justice campaigner, enemies a fully paid-up member of the awkward squad, or worse.

In 2010, in my capacity as one or other of the above my attention was taken when reading two articles in the Dunfermline Press, my local newspaper, (I understand similar coverage was in the Courier), which dealt with a proposed sports stadium development in Inverkeithing. The first seemed to be a puff piece, a good news story, which I assumed was initiated by a PR company, proclaiming: Inverkeithing in line for £5 million sports academy backed by Sir Alex LINK

The second piece boasted: Academy would be based on clubs such as Ajax. LINK

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 had Sir Alex Ferguson as a patron, had plans to build a £5 million indoor sports stadium on land at Spencerfield, Inverkeithing. This land was designated green belt 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.

But there was a catch.

Philanthropy with strings attached.

This proposed gift of land at Inverkeithing, was made on condition that Fife council re-designate this 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.

Mr Pierotti’s view was echoed in the press reports by one of the trustees, former local councillor Alan Kenney, who said, One of the most important aspects of the sports academy is that it would be a trust. Any profit generated goes back into the community, it’s not a private commercial business.”

I am all for the provision of indoor sports facilities for youngsters, but I am wary of developers bearing gifts and didn’t like the bullying tone of the articles. So I did something that I often do (too often according to my critics and my wife!) and wrote a letter to the editor expressing my disquiet at the conditional nature of the so-called gift and citing the example of the people’s gift from Carnegie, The Pitreavie Playing Fields.

This 42-acre site was owned by the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust for the leisure benefits of the local people and had been passed on (with a reversion clause) to Fife Council, who then leased it long-term to Sir David Murray, a property developer who sold it on to others, who sold it on, and on, resulting in its loss to the public it was intended to benefit. I added that I had asked Sir Alex Ferguson what he thought of his name being linked with such threats.

My letter of concern to the Dunfermline Press was duly published. LINK

A response to my letter was immediate and came from John Wilson on behalf of the Norrie McCathie Sports Facility group, which he said was a: not for profit charitable trust. John Wilson, who I knew from previous business dealings,  questioned the accuracy of my letter. John a former captain of Pitreavie Golf Club, Rotary Club member and all-round big wheel in local business circles claimed that Sir Alex Ferguson’s name would never be used to promote any idea of wrongdoing as I had suggested. LINK

Cause for concern as I come upon my first lawyer’s son Gifford by pure chance.

If there had been no response to my letter to the Dunfermline Press I may have let the matter lie, having made my point, but stung by John Wilson’s criticism, I decided to look into the groups involved in the proposed project, as I wasn’t quite sure who John Wilson was speaking on behalf of in his letter, when he used the royal “we”.

The first of the charitable concerns I looked at was the Norrie McCathie Sports Facility Trust.

By contacting Companies House I found that The Norrie McCathie Sports Facility Limited was a Private Company limited by guarantee and had never traded. It had 5 directors, Mary Duncan, David McParland, Graeme Robertson, John Watson, John Wilson and a company secretary Craig Bennett, but there was no mention of Allan Kenney who had purported to be a trustee speaking for the Norrie McCathie group in the Dunfermline Press article. LINK

The anomalies didn’t stop with personnel and to my surprise when I popped round to the Registered Office of the company to ask to see their latest accounts I found myself calling at an empty house in a residential housing scheme in Dunfermline.

I contacted John Wilson at the mobile phone number he had left in his Dunfermline Press letter and told him of these discrepancies, but he assured me that my concerns were groundless; the company was in embryo form ready to go, there had been changes to the directors and company offices which had not been recorded, and reiterated that Sir Alex Ferguson was 100% behind the project.

Finally, in response to my continued concern regarding this apparent series of anomalies, John Wilson assured me that the Norrie McCathie sports project was backed by solid, 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 shocked and alarmed me.

John Wilson may have been impressed by Gifford Bruce’s public persona as he had business links with many of Scotland’s movers and shakers. One firm he was a director of (Edinburgh Radio Ltd) had a cast of directors and investors that read like a Who-is-Who of the Scottish business world. There was Sir Tom Farmer, Andrew Neil, Sheena McDonald, Eric Milligan; JP, Andrew Murray (brother of Sir David), Sir Angus Grossart, The Scotsman Publications, Emap, et al.

In an application to OFTEL for a licence, this 5-year old band of directors had also gathered supporters from the very cream of the establishment; Amnesty International, Heart of Midlothian FC, Shepherd & Wedderburn, and any number of MSPs and civic leaders.  LINK

All these powerful people, groups, were obviously comfortable with Gifford Bruce’s company, but I wasn’t.

 

My concern and alarm confirmed as Sir Alex baulks & OSCR draws a blank. 

I soon received confirmation from Sir Alex’s solicitors that he knew nothing of the Inverkeithing project and would not condone bullying. LINK

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.” LINK

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 very questionable charity 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 knew John and did 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 a ‘take it or leave it’ ultimatum.

John Wilson knew of my doubts about the charitable status and directors of the Alfred Stewart Trust, but at our meeting, rather than back the developer as he had done in the Dunfermline Press, he now took the view that he was not interested in them, other than to get the land from them for his own purpose, the building of a sports facility. This indoor football stadium was something he had tried to have built at Pitreavie Playing Fields, but was thwarted when Fife Council gave Pitreavie to Sir David Murray, and he was now determined that the stadium would be built at nearby Inverkeithing. We agreed to disagree.

I made a further query with OSCR on the status of the developer and was eventually informed that the Alfred Stewart Trust did not have charitable status. Their application had been refused on 27 May 2010, because they did not meet the charity test.LINK

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 of the companies bearing the Alfred Stewart name had obvious charitable purposes, other than the note in the Articles I refer to above. A note which OSCR’s Compliance Officer said would have to be removed.

Both companies had in common three directors, Roano Pierotti a surveyor, and two lawyers Gifford Bruce and Clive Franks, but the companies had no legal obligation to limit their activities to charitable works to the benefit of the people of the Dunfermline area.

What was the background to the Alfred Stewart Trust?

In business terms, the late 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 of the town he owned Castlandhill & Hilton Farms (bequeathed in his will to daughter Linden), to the west Pitconochie Farm (bequeathed in his will to daughter Leonie) and to the east Duloch Farm (owned by his pension fund).

The Duloch Farm site, which has already been extensively developed, was the subject of a plea for development status by Alfred Stewart Properties Ltd (ASPL). ASPL 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 which would take the town eastwards all the way to the M9 motorway.

Alfred Stewart’s original will was specific in his wish that all of his estate go to The Alfred Stewart Trust, which was 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. LINK

Naw it’s no! Aye it is! Naw it’s no!…. What does Oscar say?

When I was a boy I remember getting into juvenile, childish arguments usually in football games, where I would declare there had, or hadn’t been, a goal/foul/shy or whatever, and then my adversary would say the opposite. This verbal tit-for-tat, sometimes punctuated by pushes or prods, would go on for ages until someone broke the spell by lashing out, or storming away with the ball tucked under their arm. Or it may have been curtailed only when a bigger boy or authoritative figure acted as referee and called the foul.

The argument between the various spokespersons for the football stadium plan and me regarding the charitable status of the Alfred Stewart Trust was taking on the repetitive claim and counter-claim of my childhood soccer spats. All and sundry (except me) made the mistake of accepting the oft-repeated mantra that there was a charity entitled the Alfred Stewart Trust. A mistake later propagated in newspaper articles printed in the Dunfermline Press and the Courier & Advertiser. This parroted misnomer persisted no matter how often I pointed out that there was no such entity.

It was telling and ironic that even after my strongest rebuttal of the supposed charitable status of the Alfred Stewart Trust on the 12th August through the letters section of the Dunfermline Press – when I also named Gifford Bruce as being notorious in Dunfermline for his past indiscretions – a spokesperson for the Alfred Stewart Property Foundation persisted with the myth of the Alfred Stewart Trust, a few pages away. LINK

On the day my letter and the Trust’s article were published in the press I was contacted by Kirsty Leiper of PR firm Mandate Scotland asking me to meet her and Roano Pierotti to clear up the confusion regarding the status of the Alfred Stewart Trust.

I agreed and met them at the King Malcolm hotel in Dunfermline on Monday 23rd August 2010. 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 charity as the Trust, except perhaps in embryonic form as an aspiration that he may have.

I also explained that the campaign to bully the people of Inverkeithing into agreeing a green belt re-zoning through the press (something they had rejected through the democratic process) had been ill thought out and misleading, as it contained spin, half-truths and downright lies. It was also something they had already rejected.

I listened to what Mr Pierotti had to say – in short that he had charitable status in principle from OSCR and had 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, by stating that the Alfred Stewart Trust had charitable status, 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. LINK

Oscar says it loud and clear…NAW IT’S NO!

Three days after the King Malcolm meeting, on Thursday 26th August 2010, the Dunfermline Press published my letter which reasserted my conviction of 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. Mr Tyson, like the big-boy/referee of my youth stepped in and unequivocally stated that what I had been saying all along, namely that the Alfred Stewart Trust was not a charity was correct! LINK

Perhaps as a result of this clarification two of the trustees of the Norrie McCathie Trust resigned, one of the resignations was John Watson, a 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. LINK

The charity that never was one, eventually becomes one.

The Alfred Stewart Trust eventually obtained charitable status on 26th November 2010, but I did not learn of this until March/April 2011, when the news heralding this welcome development was carried in the Dunfermline Press, the newspaper that had been unwittingly misled by various spokespersons parroting the lie that the company already had charitable status. LINK

I thought it only fair that I should write to the Dunfermline Press and congratulate the Alfred Stewart Trust on their new-found charitable status, adding that I was looking forward to see them act to the benefit of the Dunfermline area as stipulated in the terms of the will of the late Alfred Stewart. LINK

I only did this however after confirming via the charity regulator OSCR, that the story given to the local newspaper was  in fact accurate. LINK

The end of my verbal war with the Alfred Stewart Trust was welcomed by me and it was good to see that charitable trust publicise its good deeds, as they were now fully entitled to do.

It is a matter of record that Alfred Stewart was a generous man and moved by the death from cancer of his second wife, Barbara he was instrumental in setting up the Scottish Photodynamic Therapy Centre (SPDTC) at Ninewells Hospital, Dundee. During his lifetime this unit was entirely funded by the Barbara Stewart Cancer Trust and continued to receive donations from the Alfred Stewart people after he died.

It is only fair to add that even when the non-existent Alfred Stewart Trust was posing as a charity, while not being one, it made grants to the SPDTC. I know this because I approached them directly and asked that very question when I had reservations about the actions of the people claiming there was an entity called The Alfred Stewart Trust.

By their works shall ye know them

After the Alfred Stewart Trust became a charity there was some evidence that they were acting in a charitable manner. In June 2014 it reportedly gave a donation of £100,000 to the Yes-U-Are Initiative (N.B. Y-U-A deny receiving this amount in full) to renovate the derelict Ralph Erskine Church in the centre of the town. This picture below features on their website and shows Gifford Bruce (left) and Roano Pierotti (right) with Rob Jones, Convenor of Yes-U-Are (centre)

 

Then there was the gift of Woodlands at Dalgety Bay that had been surplus to the needs of the Alfred Stewart Property Development company, to a community voluntary group. The photo below shows Clive Franks (right) handing over the woodlands to Colin McPhail (centre), chairman of the Dalgety Bay Community Council and Stewart Greenwood, chair of Dalgety Bay Community Woodland Group, 19 May 2014.

 

The Alfred Stewart Trust was, also, since 2012, active as one of the sponsors of the Bruce Festival, which centres on the recreation of a medieval village in Pittencrieff Park. The photograph below again Gifford Bruce and Roano Pierotti with a knight in period costume at the 2013 event.

 

I move on as the Trust seems to be doing its job properly under the regulation of OSCR.

With The Alfred Stewart Trust gaining OSCR registration in March/April 2011, I moved on, hoping that the specific wishes of the late Alfred Stewart’s would now be carried out by those entrusted with this task. I hoped that Gifford Bruce, Clive Franks, and Roano Pierotti, would not be looking to profit from any new green-belt land grabs, accompanied by inducements or threats.

Their job was to concern themselves with charitable, medical and/or community obligations. I hoped that the latter category 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 – with no strings attached.

After all 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. If this was done it would show the trustees in a new light and enhance Alfred Stewart’s unquestionable charitable reputation, which up to that time had been dragged through the mud, by the property development companies that bear his name.

Did they all live happily ever after? Well not really.

The granting of charitable status to the Alfred Stewart Trust should have seen the end of any controversy surrounding the terms of the will of Alfred Stewart. However the terms set out in the original will were changed at the 11th hour as were the executors. While this was none of my business, it certainly concerned those affected by the changes.

In his final days, on 10 January 2008, Alfred Stewart 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 yet 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 published not long 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. LINK

I didn’t know Alfred Stewart having met him on one occasion only, in about 1996 I think, and he was compos mentis then, 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.” LINK

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.

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, concerned his surviving family members. Just as it had done with Ena Cochran, who believed that there was serious doubt about the state of mind of the drug dependant Sheilah Anderson, who had never managed her own affairs, when she cut her family out of her will?

It was made clear to me by Ena Cochran, one of the disinherited Anderson family members in the Northcliff affair, 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 the lawyer, Alison Bruce, died, Gifford Bruce her son took over the distribution of the estate and gave shares to non-family members, bearing the same surname but not related.

Like Ena Cochran, some of the children of the late Alfred Stewart thought that they had been robbed of their rightful inheritance and they did something about it.

 The troubled Trust is taken to task at the Court of Session

Given the consequences of the late change of mind that Alfred Stewart had with his will, it was hardly surprising when one of his sons embarked on a legal action, challenging the state of his father’s mind at the time he altered his will. The Rolls of the Court of Session recorded that Garry Stewart & Others were Pursuers in an action against Clive Franks & Others. LINK 

The basis of the legal challenge was 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 four children of Alfred Stewart, Garry, Calum, Linden and Leonie were Pursuers.

The executors of Alfred Stewart’s will, Clive Richard Michael Franks, Gifford William Bruce, Roano Dorian Pierotti, and Mr Stewart’s secretary, friend and lover Fiona Dubois Hay – who under the terms of the will is a recipient of £2,000.00 per month for life – defended the Pursuer’s challenge.

The outline of a civil action brought by the Stewart children, which was scheduled to be heard at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on the 6th and 7th July 2011, appeared in several newspapers on the 11th and 12th of June 2011. LINK.& LINK

To summarise the civil court case, it was four Stewart siblings and their witnesses making the case that their father was not of sound mind when he chaged his will, against the three Alfred Stewart Trust executors and their witnesses, who said Mr Stewart was sound of character and judgement until the day he died.

The case brought out some unpleasant facts about the character of Mr Stewart, but his children were not able to persuade Lord Brailsford that Alfred Stewart’s testamentary capacity was impaired and the will should be set aside. 

Local and national newspapers gave brief details LINK & LINK and the judge’s reasoned decision was published on the Scots Courts website. LINK

In effect, the judge accepted the evidence of the team led by a fellow solicitor, Clive Franks, who was a pillar of the legal establishment in Scotland. Franks had acted as a Reporter (a judge on over 100 complaints) and a Disciplinary Committee member for the Law Society of Scotland and had given evidence to the Scottish Parliament in this capacity when they formulated the Legal Profession and Legal Aid (Scotland) Bill 2006. LINK

It is not possible to asses the effect of Clive Franks’ evidence in shaping the new law, but he argued strongly for more money for lawyers dealing with client’s complaints, something which he himself had spent much of his own spare time doing, without pay. He also opposed the proposal that lay members have an input into complaints against solicitors, believing in the profession regulating themselves.

Clive Franks was socially active in the legal profession as well, and at the AGM of the Law Society of Scotland Yacht Club on 4th May 2000 Clive Franks was elected as Vice Commodore.

Lord Brailsford obviously considered Clive Franks trustworthy and favoured his evidence, finding that there was no evidence that Alfred Stewart’s testamentary capacity was impaired when his will was made/changed.

Lord Brailsford’s opinion is in stark contrast to that of his fellow judge, Lord Reed who thought that Alfred Stewart’s evidence and confused state of mind was anything but clear, but then judges deliver their opinions and they are just that.

In the case of Lord Reed he had first hand evidence, in the personal testimony of Alfred Stewart, a sick man with only 18 months or so to live, on which to base his judgement. Lord Brailsford on the other hand had only the second-hand evidence of those who survived Alfred Stewart and from this he chose to believe the defenders, led by lawyer, Clive Franks.

But I suppose both judges could have been right about Alfred Stewart’s mental state. He could have been confused in 2006/2007 when Lord Reed saw him and even though suffering from a debilitating illness he might have rallied and had his mind restored to full health when he changed his will in 2008, so that Clive Frank’s evidence about his testamentary capacity was credible.

Whatever. The result of Lord Brailsford’s judgement was that the three-man crew of the Alfred Stewart Trust sailed on with Clive Franks at the helm.

Man overboard! Then there were two

I take the John Donne view on hearing of the death of any man. That is, I am sorry to hear of it because I am part of mankind and any man’s death diminishes me. So I was sorry when on Wednesday 12th November 2014, I read of the death of Clive Franks and posted a note to this effect on this blog.

The press reports simply stated that Mr Franks, a partner in Edinburgh firm, Franks Macadam Brown, had been found dead in his house on Monday 10th November when police visited it after family members could not contact him. The police said there were no suspicious circumstances. Tributes were paid to him by various professional and community bodies. LINK

I won’t be hypocritical and pretend I felt personally saddened by his death as I never knew him, and from what I had heard from several sources had not been good. And let’s be frank, the circumstances of his enhanced endowment were suspicious to say the least, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt, as unlike the Stewart family, who I have never met, I had not lost anything.

Certainly, on the face of it, Clive Franks was, like Gifford Bruce, a well-respected man in his community of Dalgety Bay, where he lived in a house bordering the woodlands he had gifted to the community and right next door to the Sailing Club he had been a mainstay of. The following photos show him in happier times in 2008 when at the Prizegiving dinner of the Dalgety Bay Sailing Club he was awarded four different trophies.

Anyway for good or ill the departure of Clive Franks left the Keelboat section of the Dalgety Bay Sailing club without a skipper and the Alfred Stewart Trust in the hands of a crew of two – co-pilots Gifford Bruce and Roano Pierotti.

Suicide, Missing Cash, Law Soc. investigation, Mr Franks didn’t run a tidy ship

About a week after the first reports of Clive Franks’ death (and almost four years to the day since the Trust was registered with OSCR) came reports that he had in fact taken his own life, and then confirmation of a fact that had first been hinted at, and then withdrawn from online news reports – that he was under investigation because of irregularities in his client accounts, and he was in danger of being struck off by the Law Society. LINK

There was doubt however, as to whether or not the missing cash referred to in the press reports was from the Alfred Stewart Trust, and it was said that a Law Society Inspector couldn’t tell where cash had disappeared to, due to the poor state of their own Complaints Committee member’s accounts. LINK

Now, when articles such as the ones above appeared, I did not devour them as the journalists served it up, that is, link the events referred to, and then come to a conclusion as to the causes of the suicide. The journalist seems to be implying: Suicide, contentious will, missing money, Alfred Stewart Trust, Law Society investigation, High Court appointed Judicial Factor, join the dots. The inference being that the subjects are linked.  That may or may not be the case.

I wasn’t interested in speculation as to the factors that caused Clive Franks to take his own life, it could have been health or any number of other things not associated with his professional duty to clients, but his failure in the latter category did interest me, as I had already taken issue with the Alfred Stewart Trust trustees as far back as June 2010. That is, at a time when they had posed as a charity for years before they actually became one, in late October 2010.

All the newspaper talk of shoddy accounting, investigations and Judicial Factors in respect of Clive Franks gave further credence to the two warnings given to me at the time of my first spat with the Alfred Stewart Trust. Then I was contacted by two, apparently separate individuals, who warned me to beware of Clive Franks as he was a dangerous man. I cannot go into detail, but suffice to say it was chilling and taken seriously by me.

Ponzi schemes, assassinations, investment scams & money laundering, will the real Clive Franks ever be known? 

My limited research into Clive Franks following his death revealed a fascinating story, that began in 1989, when Sam S. Brown Jr., a onetime oil promoter, met Leslie W. Chorlton, a British businessman and formed SBC Chorco Inc. in Atlanta. This firm conned investors by persuading them to finance Chorlton’s legal fund, – subsequently found to be bogus – needed, he said, to free up a reported $ 800 billion fortune he had amassed by trading.

This fortune, according to Chorlton, was being wrongfully held by the banks. Investors were promise returns of up to $10 million per $1,000 invested when he released his fortune.

When this US Ponzi scheme was found out, the main players took off to Europe, and in Chorlton’s case to France where the fraudulently raised legal fund money was banked and where 47-year-old Chorlton was a big noise.

From his new, Corrèze region home, Chorlton promised to carry out all manner of grand schemes to bring employment to the area. However, just days before French police fraud squad officers (who believed Chorlton was the brains behind the Brinks Mat bullion robbery) were due to question him, in July 1991, he, and his 30-year-old Dutch-born wife, Bernadette Kleijane, were found strangled near their home, in what police described as a “mob-style” murder or assassination.

It would have been better for Chorlton had he been caught by the police, rather than by his murderer. Was this payback by a duped investor? A contract on a con-man? Who knows, but deportation and jail in the USA would have been a better fate.

Chorlton’s death, rather than ending his Ponzi scam however, gave rise to a new scam, in that back in the USA, James B. Gilmour stepped in and fraudulently raised millions of dollars to fund a European investigation. The goal being to get hold of the supposed, trillions of dollars that the dead Chorlton had, allegedly, deposited in European banks.

Gilmour went one better than Chorlton by attracting over 1,000 new, as well as some of Chorlton’s original investors, many of whom were recruited at fundamentalist churches, by promises of $25 million for each $1,000 invested! LINK

This, scam-on-a-scam, soon came to the notice of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) and they were not amused. At this stage large amounts of money were leaving the USA for Europe and some of it came the way of Clive Franks, at Edinburgh solicitors McAdam Brown, this caused him to be cited as a “defendant” in a criminal investigation. LINK 

As things got hot, as well as money leaving the country, James B. Gilmore also left the USA for Europe, and though it was reported that he might be extradited from the UK, no prosecutions took place for his Atlanta-based scam.

This may have been because others cited as defendants, Douglas G. Gilmore, believed to be James B. Gilmore’s brother, Amay Associates Ltd., a Geneva Corp; and two other individuals, Ami Simon and Josef Covals, were believed to have left for Australia, making prosecution difficult.

However Gilmore’s daughter and others carried on with the scheme in Wyoming, conning 25,000 investors out of at least $18 million that the SEC  known of.  LINK 

Wyoming’s law enforcement agencies were not as forgiving as those in Georgia state and in 1995 Gilmore’s daughter and five others were convicted in Cheyenne District Court, and jailed. LINK

So Clive Franks, while avoiding legal proceedings in the USA at the time, may have been living in fear that the long arm of the USA’s SEC/FBI could at any time reach overseas and bring him and the other Georgia-based scammers back to face trial. Or worse still, angry investors twice duped, by Chorlton, then Gilmore, trying to get their own back.

Clive Frank’s death leaves many unanswered questions, but there seems to be no real doubts as to the trustworthiness of a man, considered by so many to be a safe pair of hands.

Indeed it is ironic that the man, chosen in 2000 to be Vice Commodore of the Law Society’s Yacht Club, as a steady hand on the tiller, may have had his hand, eh,…in the till…er!

Then there were two!

Of the original executors and trustees chosen by Alfred Stewart only two, Gifford Bruce and Roano Pierotti remained to carry out his wishes.

In the immediate aftermath of Clive Franks suicide the Alfred Stewart Trust made all the right noises of sympathy and reassurance that this would not affect the Trust.

Then there were none!

On 11th December, 2014 the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) suspended all of the trustees of the Alfred Stewart Trust and its trading subsidiaries.

OSCR also froze the bank accounts for the charity and on 16th December petitioned the Court of Session to appoint a Judicial Factor to take over the charity. This petition was approved by the court and on the same date, William (Bill) Cleghorn of Aver Chartered Accountants was appointed by OSCR as Interim Judicial Factor (Made permanent on 3rd February 2015).

Staying with the nautical terminology, to lose the helmsman (Clive Franks) was sad, but to lose the first mate (Gifford Bruce) and the bo’sun (Roano Pierotti) left the good ship Alfred Stewart Trust floundering and heading for the rocks. Let us hope that the new skipper, Bill Cleghorn, can steer a true course for the Trust, as the people of Dunfermline who were to be the main beneficiaries of the late Alfred Stewart’s generosity, deserve no less.

The reason OSCR had acted to appoint Bill Cleghorn was because at an earlier stage they had been in “receipt of concerns about the actions of the charity trustees and their management of the charity”, in addition to which the Law Society of Scotland had advised them that “it was conducting an investigation into the practice of the sole practitioner [Mr Franks] who had been appointed as solicitor to the Executry of Mr Stewart”.

The Law Society had, at an earlier date, also successfully petitioned the Court of Session to appoint an interim Judicial Factor, who found that all was not ‘ship-shape and Bristol fashion’ with Clive Franks’ firm, Franks Macadam Brown.

Having said I don’t believe in attributing reasons to the suicide of Clive Franks, I must say that the fact  he took his life on Monday the 10th of November, 2014, that is, just three days before the Court of Session confirmed the appointment of an Interim Judicial Factor, (a Motion would have been made on about the 10th, and intimated to Clive Franks) does go towards the view that there may have been some connection between the two events?

Anyway a line has been drawn under another chapter in the tangled tale of the Alfred Stewart Trust, and associated companies.

The fat lady ain’t sang yet, she’s clearing her throat, but will we hear all of her song?  

Two chartered accountants Emma S L Porter,  Aver Chartered Accountants, and Thomas R ‘Richie’ Campbell (retired independent), are now directors tasked with controling the assets of the two Alfred Stewart Trust trading companies: Alfred Stewart Properties Limited and Alfred Stewart Property Foundation Ltd. These two directors are independent and not under the supervision of Judicial Factor Bill Cleghorn, also an accountant, who reports solely to the Accountant of Court (Court of Session).

The directors of the Stewart companies have engaged a number of recognised professional firms to advise them on a variety of matters, all of which are of a technical nature in relation to land and planning.

The estate of Clive Franks and the practice of Franks McAdam Brown  are in the care of Judicial Factor, Morna Grandison, Director of Interventions for the Law Society of Scotland, who after preliminary investigations petitioned the Court of Session to appoint another Judicial Factor, solicitor, Carole Hope, a partner in Murray Beith Murray, to investigate the executory estate of Alfred Stewart. So it may be some time before we get a definitive conclusion about the propriety or otherwise of the stewardship of the late Alfred Stewart’s benefaction.

Will we get the full story?

I don’t think so. I am sceptical about self-regulating bodies such as the Law Society of Scotland. In short, these relationships are too cosy and self preserving. In the case of Clive Franks his judges are likely to be the same people he sat on the complaints committee with. Or sat having a drink with in the yacht club bar after a days sailing in a Law Society Regatta on the Firth of Forth.

Dalgety Bay Sailing Club will no doubt have its share of the movers and shakers in the legal world/justice system and Clive Franks would certainly have been well thought of by these people. A scan through the April 2009 copy of the club’s in-house magazine, Mainsheet shows the ubiquitous Mr Franks as the contact for submissions for articles, the Marketing Officer, the GK24 Class Captain, the Marketing and Communications Officer, and general good egg, dishing out charity, which it is boasted, secures Sponsorship for the coming Regatta from Alfred Stewart Property Limited following confirmation of the late Mr Stewart’s Estate. LINK

Well charity begins at home, so no wonder he was smiling in this photo from the April 2009 Main Sheet:

The reasons that lawyers (substitute: accountants, police, priests, politicians et al) don’t judge other lawyers harshly are twofold. Firstly the informal freemasonry that says we, the brethren are all fine fellows, means that the kindest possible interpretation is given to their peers. The usual mantra is that he/she: “bowed to temptation on this rare occasion but there were mitigating factors, pressure of pro-bono/charitable work for his, otherwise fine, member of the coummunity….”

Then there is the cost to the legal profession through the common fund, which means that the Law Society has an obligation to pick up the tab for the theft of monies from client accounts.

Any investigating lawyer or accountant acting for a Judicial Factor looking into the affairs of a legal practice that has gone awry is likely to look into the can of worms, select a juicy one that cannot avoid being examined, then seal the lid firmly down on the can. To empty out all of the worms and inspect them forensically would be very harmful to the reputation of the profession and very costly to all of its members.

The process of Judicial Factor investigation and administration of estates is viewed by many with deep scepticism. Like administration or liquidation appointments, many see them as going into troubled firms and only reaching a final conclusion when the corpse of the dying firm is picked clean of all meat and only the bare bones remain.

Professionals charging between £300 and £500 per hour (Bill Cleghorn only charges a the reasonable sum set by the Court of £242.00 per hour) will soon mop up any cash left in an ailing company and when the assets are all sold to pay for their services the resultant report after a period of time is easy to predict:  “The record keeping is so bad that we can’t make head or tail of the affairs of the company, but we can safely say that the money has all gone and there is nothing left.” 

I am not alone in my scepticism as I have been contacted by several individuals who feel they have been ripped off by court appointed Judicial Factors and any number of articles in this vein can be seen online, such as this one regarding the case of Edinburgh solicitors, MacAdams SSC. LINK

Let us hope, my scepticism is unfounded and I am proved wrong, for the sake of the people of Dunfermline, who should have derived great and long-term benefit from the Alfred Stewart Trust.

With the possibility of malpractice, might there be a question for the law courts to answer?

There is of course the possibility that all of the business of the Alfred Stewart Trust and associate companies was carried out in a professional manner and all the investigations will be charged at a fraction of the costs that I have indicated and will eventually find that everything was above-board.

There is also the possibility that the opposite is the case.

Ena Cochran’s suspicions that professional people robbed her of her rightful inheritance may not be fanciful and are not 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 client, a dying centenarian, 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 minds to benefit non-family members such as lawyers. LINK

Andrew Page Drummond was sentenced to jail in 2000, but was release in 2002 following an appeal brought because there was a technical fault in his trial. At his trial the jurors were asked to leave the court briefly while legal debate took place and inadvertently so was the accused, Mr Drummond. The fact that he left was noticed and commented on but his lawyer made nothing of it and he was duly convicted.

A few years later however the Appeal Court took a very serious view of this absence, even though nothing turned on it, and cited all sorts of precedent (including The Criminal Justice Act 1587) to show that an accused cannot miss a minute of his trial. LINK

Mr Drummond was sent out into the community having suffered a miscarriage of justice according to the law of Scotland, but his old ways returned and he has recently fallen foul of the courts again. LINK

Compare and contrast Mr Drummond’s treatment in 2002 with the appeal of Abdelbaset al Megrahi, the man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, who, together with his lawyer, was barred from his appeal hearing for days, while Public Interest Immunity Certificates were debated in camera. Of course Megrahi was not a lawyer.

In the juxtaposition of these two cases, the law was applied rigorously to free a convicted man who had swindled a dying centenarian on the one hand, and then the same law was ignored, or overturned to ensure that a convicted dying man could not take part in an appeal to seek justice and clear his name.

Well I am not a lawyer either, but anomalies like this where different standards seem to apply make me question whether the law favours the lawyer.

I would make it clear that I have simply followed a thread from my first lawyer and found it interesting. I don’t believe that all lawyers are crooks, far from it and perhaps the estate of the late Alfred Stewart will be treated in a way that will restore my faith in Scottish lawyers. If it is then I will publish the good news here.

OSCAR won’t reveal the names of the trustees of the Alfred Stewart Trust

As stated above there was a ‘three, two, one’ type countdown of trustees, a bit like an Agatha Christie novel where the guests at a house party get bumped off one at a time. Well the three trustees that I knew about were not in fact the full crew of the good ship A. S. Trust as it was revealed at the time of the Judicial Factor appointments that there were in fact five trustees.

I was intrigued by this revelation and asked the Office of the Charity Regulator in Scotland (OSCR) for the identities of all the trustees, because that information (normally supplied on the website, or via the charity was not available.

Oscar said he wouldn’t reveal this, apparently innocent detail, so I asked for a review under the Freedom of Information Act.   Oscar cosidered my request, but still ain’t telling: LINK

They reckon it isn’t in the public interest!

If you have managed to wade through my ramblings this far you may be interested to read of my next lawyers. They were worse…..See: