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CAPITAL SECRET: Crown Office block disclosure of financial costs in FIVE YEAR probe of collapsed £400m Heather Capital hedge fund linked to Scotland’s judiciary

Crown Office Hedge Fund probe secrecy. A FIVE YEAR investigation by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) into charges relating to a collapsed hedge fund – remains shrouded in secrecy after the case was axed, and with a recent decision to block disclosure of costs of the probe.

The collapse of the Isle of Man based Heather Capital Hedge Fund saw four persons charged after a three year long Police investigation –  in April 2013 – in connection with events relating to the broke £400million hedge fund.

Heather Capital launched in 2005 – attracting global investors, loaning money to fund property deals.

After the collapse of the hedge fund in 2010, Paul Duffy, the liquidator of Heather Capital – claimed that about £90 million was unaccounted for.

However, in February of this year, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC quietly axed the lengthy five year investigation of the collapsed hedge fund and solicitors Gregory King & Andrew Sobolewski , accountant Andrew Millar and property expert Scott Carmichael.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request, the Crown Office has now refused to disclose any information in relation to the costs of the five year investigation into a collapsed hedge fund which saw four persons charged by Police Scotland in 2013.

The Crown Office were asked for information contained in the costs (figures) of the investigation by the Crown Office into charges against four persons in relation to the collapsed Hedge Fund Heather Capital.

When (date) the decision was taken to drop any action against the four persons charged in connection with above.

How many independent or other counsel & crown counsel served or worked on this investigation (and other COPFS staff, or others contracted in for this investigation (and their speciality role) – and their costs.

Information contained in any overseas travel (dates & destinations, costs of) in relation to this investigation.

Responding for the Crown Office, Christine Lazzarin claimed there was no costing available for the failed five year investigation, as the Crown Office intentionally does not monitor costs in investigations.

However, legal insiders have suggested costs around the five year investigation have run into millions of pounds,and that some felt the case was flawed from the outset due to ‘a lack of additional charges.

There are also claims a number of prosecutors & counsel became inactive, leaving the probe over the span of the five years.

Responding to the Freedom of Information request, Christine Lazzarin of the Crown Office ‘Information Unit’ wrote: In relation to your request I will firstly explain that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) does not routinely collate the total costs associated with investigating individual cases, and having made enquiries with our Finance Division I can advise that there are no COPFS costs recorded against the case reference allocated to this investigation.

By way of explanation there was no specific team created to investigate this case and all COPFS costs associated with the investigation will be addressed within the existing budgetary framework and not recorded separately. We do not therefore hold associated staffing costs in terms of Section 17 of FOISA. Additionally I can confirm that there was no overseas travel involved in this investigation.

The investigation was handled by staff within the COPFS Serious and Organised Crime Division (SOCD) in consultation with the COPFS International Co-operation Unit. The case was then reported to Crown Counsel to take a decision on whether to prosecute.

Following full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the currently available admissible evidence, Crown Counsel instructed that there should be no proceedings at this time. The Crown however reserves the right to raise proceedings should further evidence become available.

It may be helpful if I outline the COPFS policy in relation to providing case related information in relation to a Freedom of Information request. Other than confirming that we do hold information, this information will not be provided to persons unconnected to a case under a Freedom of Information Act request. Information about a case will include sensitive personal data about the accused, victims and witnesses in terms of the Data Protection Act 1998, disclosure of which could constitute a breach of that legislation. Where disclosure of personal sensitive information would contravene the Data Protection Act, we are not required to disclose it under FOISA.

Having explained our general position you have asked for the date this decision was made and I can advise that I am unable to provide you with the information you have requested for the following reasons:-

The information is exempt in terms of section 34(1)(a) of FOISA because it is held by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for the purposes of an investigation carried out by virtue of a duty to ascertain whether a person(s) should be prosecuted for an offence(s). This is not an absolute exemption and I have therefore considered whether the public interest favours disclosure of the information, notwithstanding the exemption. Although the public interest is not defined in FOISA it has been described as “something which is of serious concern or benefit to the public”. It has also been held that the public interest does not mean “of interest to the public” but “in the interest of the public”. The decision to take no proceedings at this time is already in the public domain but I do not consider that it is in the interests of the public to know the date the decision was made. Additionally as the Crown reserves the right to raise proceedings should further evidence become available in the future it would be inappropriate to release case related details over and above those already in the public domain.

I also consider that under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA, release of the information requested would contravene section 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998 as you are requesting details of a criminal case reported to COPFS against particular individuals. This is an absolute exemption and I am not required to consider the public interest test.

I hope you find this information helpful.

If you are dissatisfied with the way in which your request has been handled, you do have the right to ask us to review it. Your request should be made within 40 working days of receipt of this letter and we will reply within 20 working days of receipt. If you require a review of our decision to be carried out, please e-mail foi@copfs.gsi.gov.uk.

The review will be undertaken by staff not involved in the original decision making process.

If our decision is unchanged following a review and you remain dissatisfied with this, please note that although generally under section 47(1) of FOISA there is a right of appeal to the Scottish Information Commissioner, where the information requested is held by the Lord Advocate as head of the systems of criminal prosecution and investigation of deaths in Scotland, under section 48(c) no application can be made as respects a request for review made to the Lord Advocate. The information you have requested appears to fall into that category, although ultimately it would be for the Commissioner to decide whether that was the case should you refer the matter to him.

In circumstances where section 48(c) does not apply and the Commissioner accepts an appeal, should you subsequently wish to appeal against that decision, there is a right of appeal to the Court of Session on a point of law only.

While an investigation will be sought from the Scottish Information Commissioner’s office, previous attempts to have the SIC look at Crown Office blocking of Freedom of Information requests have fallen by the wayside – even when a request was made to investigate the Lord Advocate’s secrecy block on publication of the COPFS register of interests, more on which can be viewed here: DECLARE THE CROWN: Secrecy block on Crown Office Register of Interests – after fears info will reveal crooked staff, dodgy business dealings, prosecutors links to judiciary, criminals, drugs dealers and dodgy law firms

Although the Crown Office have refused to answer any questions on the status or costs associated with their five year investigation of the Heather Capital collapse, legal insiders have pointed to previous COPFS investigations and recent trials of financial frauds, where costs to the taxpayer have ran up to nearly ten million pounds.

One such case was the Mclaren property fraud case – which the Crown Office did everything in their power to avoid categorising as a “mortgage fraud” prosecution – after claims emerged the fraud duo once worked for, and had dealings with among others – a senior legal figure linked to one of the current top legal officers in the Crown Office.

In the McLaren case, Edwin McLaren, from Quarriers Village in Renfrewshire, was found guilty of property fraud totalling about £1.6m, convicted on 29 charges, and his wife Lorraine – on two charges.

The trial at the High Court in Glasgow began in September 2015 and heard evidence for 320 days.

Reports in the media quoted costs of around £7.5m, with more than £2.4m in legal aid paid for defence lawyers.

However, legal insiders claim the investigation by COPFS prior to the trial of the McLarens also ran into millions of pounds.

Similarly, with the complexity of the Heather Capital collapse – at £400million – the trail of money and international capital transfers – the costs of the Crown Office five year Heather Capital probe are likely to be at least equal to, or significantly higher than the investigation into the McLaren property fraud prior to that case going to trial.

HEATHER CAPITAL £28M CIVIL CLAIM ENDS:

Solicitor Peter Black Watson, formerly of Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae –  was linked to the collapsed hedge fund in a now abandoned £28million civil claim.

However, it has been previously reported part time Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended in February 2015 by Scotland’s top judge – Lord Brian Gill “to maintain public confidence in the judiciary”

A statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland issued after a newspaper asked for a comment, stated: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.

The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings.

Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February.

On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter.

Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

Peter Watson now has his own law business, PBW Law – also based in Glasgow.

Watson, and his former law firm named in the Heather Capital writ – Levy and Mcrae –  also currently represent the Scottish Police Federation – who in turn represent all Police Officers in Police Scotland.

Investigations by the media also show that suspended Sheriff Peter Watson represented, among others – Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini – during her term as Lord Advocate.

Watson’s other clients included Alex Salmond, Stephen Purcell, Yorkhill Hospital Board – which has now changed it’s name to Glasgow Children’s Hospital Charity – of which Watson is chair, of the board and Rangers Chiefs.

In Court documents published online by the Scottish Court Service, it is noteworthy that during the tenure of Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini – who was Lord Advocate from 12 October 2006 – 30 April 2011, significant transfers of capital from Peter Watson’s law firm – Levy & Mcrae – took place to Panamanian and Gibraltar registered companies.

Records from the Court of Session reported:

On 4 January 2007, HC transferred £19 million to its client account with Levy and Mcrae.

On 24 January 2007, HC transferred £9.412 million to its client account with Levy and Mcrae.

On 9 January 2007, Levy and Mcrae transferred £19 million to a Panamanian company (Niblick) owned and controlled by Mr Levene:the money was not therefore transferred to WBP.The transfer was undocumented and without security.

On 29 March 2007, Levy and Mcrae transferred £9.142 million to Hassans, solicitors, Gibraltar, under the reference “Rosecliff Limited” (a company controlled by Mr King):the money was not therefore transferred to WBP.The transfer was undocumented and without security.

A full report on the now abandoned £28million civil claim case against Peter Watson & Levy & Mcrae, and Lord Carloway’s consideration of Watson’s continuing suspension from the judicial bench can be found here: CAPITAL NUDGE: Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway to consider status of de-benched Sheriff Peter Watson – suspended for a record THREE YEARS over £28million writ linked to collapsed £400m hedge fund Heather Capital

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CAPITAL NUDGE: Scotland’s top judge Lord Carloway to consider status of de-benched Sheriff Peter Watson – suspended for a record THREE YEARS over £28million writ linked to collapsed £400m hedge fund Heather Capital

Lord Carloway considering status of suspended Sheriff linked to collapsed Hedge Fund. A JUDGE who has been suspended from the Judiciary of Scotland for a record THREE YEARS – after being named in a £28million writ linked to the collapse of a £400m Hedge fund – remains suspended despite the closure of the civil claim.

Now, Lord Carloway (Colin Sutherland) – Scotland’s most senior judge – is now said to be considering the position of part time Sheriff Peter Black Watson (64) – after the liquidator of Heather Capital Paul Duffy of EY – mysteriously abandoned the £28m action against Glasgow law firm Levy and McRae solicitors – in which Peter Watson was once a partner.

Peter Watson was suspended from the Judiciary of Scotland more than three years ago on February 16, 2015 – after the then Lord President, Lord Brian Gill, was informed by a journalist of the claims in the case against Levy and McRae, and specifically against Watson, over Heather Capital’s collapse in 2010.

The move came after allegations surfaced in a £28million writ naming part time Sheriff Peter Black Watson – and his former law firm Levy and Mcrae, and a number of individuals under investigation in connection with the £400million collapse of Heather Capital.

In response to queries from the media in February 2015 on the contents of the writ – the Judicial Office subsequently issued a statement confirming Lord Brian Gill  had suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) on 16 February 2015.

The suspension came after Gill demanded sight of the writ.

Responding to the Lord President’s request, Watson then offered to step aside temporarily – while the litigation concluded – however a Judicial Office spokesperson said “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

A statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland read as follows: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.

The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings.

Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February.

On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter.

Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

Watson’s former law firm –  Levy & McRae, was one of several companies being sued by Heather’s liquidator, Ernst & Young, after the fund’s collapse in 2010.

Watson was also a director of a company called Mathon Ltd – a key part of the Heather empire.

The collapsed hedge fund Heather Capital – run by lawyer Gregory King was the subject of a Police Scotland investigation and a FIVE YEAR probe by the Crown Office.

However, in early February, the Crown Office coincidently confirmed there would be no prosecutions in the cases of the four individuals  – lawyers Gregory King & Andrew Sobolewski, accountant Andrew Millar and property expert Scott Carmichael – who were charged by Police Scotland in connection with a Police investigation of events relating to the collapse of Heather Capital.

Peter Watson now has his own law business, PBW Law.

Watson, and his former law firm named in the Heather Capital writ – Levy and Mcrae –  also represent the Scottish Police Federation.

Responding to queries from reporters, a  spokesperson for the Judicial Office said: “The action, in which suspended part time Sheriff Peter Watson was among the defenders, has settled.  An interlocutor to that effect has been issued.  The Lord President will consider what, if any, steps now require to be taken‎.”

Despite EY’s withdrawal of the £28million claim against Levy and Mcrae & Peter Watson, detailed claims in the Court of Session revealed the following:

[21]      In the Levy Mcrae case:

  • On 4 January 2007, HC transferred £19 million to its client account with LM (Lord Doherty paragraph [5]).
  • On 24 January 2007, HC transferred £9.412 million to its client account with LM (Lord Doherty paragraph [5]).
  • The money was intended to be loaned to a first level SPV Westernbrook Properties Ltd (WBP) for onward lending to second level SPVs (Lord Doherty paragraph [5]).
  • On 9 January 2007, LM transferred £19 million to a Panamanian company (Niblick) owned and controlled by Mr Levene:the money was not therefore transferred to WBP.The transfer was undocumented and without security (Lord Doherty paragraph [5], and Condescendence 6 and 17, pages 20 and 44 of LM reclaiming print).
  • By a memorandum dated 17 March 2007, HC’s auditors KPMG “identified a number of concerns relating to the documentation provided in respect of these loans”.Further work and information was required (Condescendence 5, page 13 of LM reclaiming print).
  • On 29 March 2007, LM transferred £9.142 million to Hassans, solicitors, Gibraltar, under the reference “Rosecliff Limited” (a company controlled by Mr King):the money was not therefore transferred to WBP.The transfer was undocumented and without security (Lord Doherty paragraph [5], and Condescendence 6 and 17, pages 20 and 44 of LM reclaiming print).
  • In April to June 2007, amounts equivalent to the loans thought to have been made to WBP (including accrued interest) were “repaid” to HC via Cannons, solicitors, Glasgow.The directors were unable to ascertain the source of these repayments (Lord Doherty paragraph [7]).
  • Approaches made by HC to Mr Volpe and Triay & Triay, a firm of solicitors in Gibraltar, were met with a total lack of co-operation (Lord Doherty paragraph [8]).
  • At a board meeting on 6 September 2007, “KPMG could not approve HC’s accounts … Santo Volpe had executed certain loans to SPV companies where non‑standard procedures had been followed which meant that inadequate security had been given for some loans … Gregory King stated that the loans to the SPVs had been repaid in full in May 2007” (Condescendence 5, page 13 of LM reclaiming print).
  • By email to a non‑executive director of HC (Mr Bourbon) dated 7 September 2007, Mr McGarry of KPMG referred to the previous day’s board meeting, and expressed concerns about the situation.He asked for further information, namely “all possible evidence regarding the movement of monies out of Heather Capital into these SPVs and onwards to whatever purpose the funds were applied – ie, sight of bank statements, payment/remittance instructions, certified extracts from solicitors clients’ money accounts etc”.(It should be noted that, contrary to HC’s averment in Condescendence 5 at page 13C‑D of LM reclaiming print, the email did not restrict the inquiries requested to “explaining what information was required from Santo Volpe”:the request was much broader.)
  • In October 2007 the non‑executive directors of HC met with the Isle of Man Financial Services Commission (FSC) to discuss “the issues” (Lord Doherty paragraph [8]).A director also disclosed the suspicious activity and Mr Volpe’s obstruction to the Isle of Man Financial Crime Unit (FCU), who said they would investigate (Condescendence 5 page 14 of LM reclaiming print).The auditors KPMG carried out an additional full scope audit.
  • By letter dated 18 October 2007, FSC wrote to the directors of HC setting out further information which they required.
  • By letter dated 26 November 2007 Mr King advised the HC board that “some sort of fraud had been deliberately introduced with invalid land registry details on a number of the loans”.He stated that he had applied pressure to Mr Volpe and Mr Cannon, whereupon there had been “full repayment of the loans with relevant interest” which meant that “investors were secure”.
  • On 17 December 2007, KPMG signed the accounts and added a completion note using language such as “The risk of fraud increased to high as a result of the documentation issues surrounding the SPVs, where some form of fraud appeared to have been attempted”.In their audit report opinion, they stated “We have been unable to verify where funds advanced to the SPVs were invested.In addition, we were supplied with false documentation in relation to the SPVs which appears to have been a deliberate attempt to mislead us.Given these loans were repaid in the period, we consider that the effect of this is not so material and pervasive that we are unable to form an opinion on the financial statements [opting instead for express qualifications that loan and security documentation could not be validated] … There is uncertainty as to where the monies lent to the [SPVs] were then subsequently invested … Investigations continue to determine what party (or parties) were involved in and were accountable for these events, and whether any action should be taken against them …” (Lord Doherty paragraph [9]).
  • By letter to HC dated 4 January 2008, KPMG gave serious warnings about their inability to validate loan and security documentation, and lack of evidence as to the purpose for which the money advanced to SPVs was applied.In their words:

“ … Our report is designed to … avoid weaknesses that could lead to material loss or misstatement.  However, it is your obligation to take the actions needed to remedy those weaknesses and should you fail to do so we shall not be held responsible if loss or misstatement occurs as a result … [Having explained the disappearance of the funds and the apparent repayments, on which legal advice had been received, KPMG warned] … these matters are extremely serious … an attempted fraud appears to have been perpetrated … We would recommend that the Board continue their investigation into this matter and formally document their decision as to whether or not to inform the criminal justice authorities …”

A full copy of a court opinion detailing these and other claims with regards to a further case against Burness Paull LLB  – which coincidently also collapsed earlier last year – can be viewed here: Court of Session allows proof against Levy & Mcrae and Burness Paull LLP in Heather Capital case as liquidators attempt to recover cash from collapsed £280m hedge fund.

In the motion of abandonment filed by EY & Heather Capital, heard in the Court of Session on 28 February before Lord Glennie, Lady Paton & Lady Clark of Calton, Lord Glennie’s opinion sums up matters in relation to issues in the Heather Capital case, which linked claims of financial wrongdoing directly to Scotland’s judiciary – who, ultimately heard and ruled on the case.

Lord Glennie stated in his opinion:

[97]      I have had the advantage of reading in draft the opinions to be given by Lady Paton and Lady Clark of Calton.  I agree with them and, for the reasons they give, I too would allow parties a Proof Before Answer of all their averments on record preserving all pleas. 

[98]      I would wish to add two comments of my own. 

[99]      The main focus of the debate in each case was whether the pursuer, HC, had made sufficient and relevant averments of “reasonable diligence” for the purposes of section 11(3) and the proviso to section 6(4) of the 1973 Act.  In both cases the Lord Ordinary held that HC had not said enough and in sufficient detail to justify sending the matter to a Proof Before Answer.  The matter could be determined on the pleadings.  Lady Paton has explained why we take a different view.  But I have a more general concern about this approach. 

[100]    In his note of argument in the LM case, under reference to cases such as John Doyle Construction Ltd v Laing Management (Scotland) Ltd 2004 SC 713 at pages 722 – 723 and Watson v Greater Glasgow Health Board [2016] CSOH 93 at paragraphs 22-23, Lord Davidson QC was at pains to remind us that the purpose of pleading is to give fair notice of the assertions of fact sought to be established in the evidence as well as to identify the essential propositions of law on which a party founds.  Elaborate pleading is unnecessary in any action, not just in a commercial action.  The purpose of the pleadings is to give notice of the essential elements of the case.  The pleadings should set out the bare bones of the case.  They are not the place to set out in full the evidence intended to be adduced.  In the present cases that appears to have been overlooked.  To that extent I have some sympathy with Lord Davidson’s submission.  The Closed Record in the BP action, as it appears in the Reclaiming Print, runs to some 59 pages, while that in the LM action extends to 93 pages.  This has happened, so it seems to me, because in their pleadings parties have indulged in a process akin to trial by pleading.  The defenders have made averments of fact intended to undermine the pursuer’s case on reasonable diligence; the pursuer has responded by making further averments addressed to those points;  this in turn has caused the defenders to make further averments or raise further questions;  the pursuer has tried to answer by making yet further averments;  and this is constantly repeated until parties are finally exhausted.  The process resembles one of cross examination and response, a process for which pleadings are quite unfitted.  I do not seek to apportion blame.  In a case such as this, the temptation to pile pressure on to the pursuer by pleading a wealth of detail is difficult to resist;  and a pursuer who does not respond in kind runs the risk of being thought to have no answer to the points which have been raised.  Difficulty arises when the matter comes to debate on the question of whether, for example, the pursuer has made sufficiently relevant and specific averments that it “could not with reasonable diligence have been aware” that loss had occurred (section 11(3)) and that it could not “with reasonable diligence have discovered” the fraud or error induced by the debtor which induced it to refrain from making a relevant claim at an earlier stage (section 6(4), proviso).  Points are made in argument about the failure to take certain steps or to follow up on the particular line of enquiry;  and the Lord Ordinary is invited to form a view that what was done was insufficient or that the reasons given for not doing it are inadequate.  Such an invitation should, in my view, be resisted save in the most obvious case.  The judgments which the court is being asked to make are essentially value judgments, assessments of the reasonableness or otherwise of a party’s conduct.  Such judgments should seldom if ever be made on the basis of the pleadings without hearing evidence.  It may seem obvious, on paper, that something ought to have been done or that a line of enquiry ought to have been pursued; but when evidence is led it might seem less obvious, or there might be good reasons for not taking that course.  It is not the function of pleadings to set out every reason why each relevant individual took or did not take any particular step.  In many cases issues of credibility and reliability might arise, the evidence may be far more nuanced than it is possible to convey on paper, explanations may be given more fully and persuasively than can come over in the pleadings, and some of the criticisms may, in light of all the evidence, be seen to be informed by hindsight.  I should emphasise that I make these observations without reference to any of the particular points decided in the particular cases with which we are here concerned.  But it does seem to me that the cases with which we are concerned illustrate the danger of the court being drawn into deciding cases on detailed averments of fact when it would be more appropriate that all the evidence be heard before any decision is made. 

[101]    The other comment I would wish to make concerns the question of whether the claims advanced in both actions on the basis of the existence of a trust are subject to the 5‑year prescriptive period in section 6 of the 1973 Act or are subject to the 20-year long negative prescription in section 7.  This matter was discussed by Lord Doherty in the LM action at paragraphs [25]-[31].  He concluded that the obligation of a trustee to produce trust accounts is an imprescriptible obligation;  that the liability to make payment of the sum found due in an accounting for trust funds is subject only to the long negative prescription;  and that the obligation of a trustee to restore the value of trust property paid away in breach of trust is also subject only to the long negative prescription.  The matter was not discussed by Lord Tyre in the BP case for reasons which are slightly unclear – matters appear to have proceeded in that debate on the basis that all obligations were subject to the 5-year prescriptive period and that the only issues in that respect concerned the pursuer’s case on sections 6(4) and 11(3) – but it was not suggested before us that the point is not live in that action too.  Detailed submissions on the point were made by Mr Duncan QC on behalf of LM and adopted by Mr Dunlop QC on behalf of BP.  Lord Davidson QC responded on behalf of HC.  I, for one, was grateful for their submissions.  It emerged in the course of those submissions, as it had to some extent at the debate in the LM case, that not only was there a dispute as to the law to be applied in a case of accounting and/or breach of trust but there was also a dispute as to whether the circumstances of the present cases gave rise to a relationship of trust at all or, alternatively, a trust of a kind intended to be excluded from the 5-year short negative prescription.  In light of this, it seems to me that it would be desirable that all of the relevant facts be determined before the issues are decided.  For that reason, and for the reasons given by Lady Paton in paragraph [80] of her opinion, I am persuaded that it would be premature to attempt to decide these points at this stage.

COLLAPSE OF FIVE YEAR CROWN OFFICE PROBE:

In a further twist to the Heather Capital saga, a FIVE YEAR probe by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) collapsed just a few days before the collapse of the £28million writ against Levy and Mcrae, & Peter Watson.

A report by journalist Russell Findlay revealed: CROWN prosecutors will take no action against four men following a fraud probe into a collapsed £400 million finance firm.

Lawyer Gregory King, 49, and three others were reported to the Crown by detectives who investigated his hedge fund Heather Capital which was based in the Isle of Man.

Heather, launched by King in 2005, attracted investors from around the world and loaned money to fund property deals.

Following its 2010 collapse, Heather’s liquidator Paul Duffy claimed that around £90million was unaccounted for and a police fraud probe resulted in the four men being reported to the Crown Office in April 2013.

An Isle of Man court judgement likened Heather to a ‘Ponzi’ scheme, made famous by US financier Bernie Madoff who was jailed for 150 years in 2009.

The other three reported by police were lawyer Andrew Sobolewski, of Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, Andrew Millar, of ­Cambuslang, near Glasgow, and Scott ­Carmichael, of Thorntonhall, near Glasgow.

Last year there was criticism of the Crown for taking so long to consider the case but after almost five years it has now dropped the case.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “Following full and careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case, including the currently available admissible evidence, Crown Counsel instructed  that there should be no proceedings at this time.

“The Crown reserves the right to raise proceedings should further evidence become available.”

The Scottish Sun reported on the serving of the £28million civil writ which named lawyer Peter Black Watson – back in February 2015, here:

The Scottish Sun reports:

WRIT HITS THE FAN

FIRM FIRM SLAPPED WITH COURT SUMMONS – Top legal outfit in megabucks lawsuit

Practice is linked to bust hedge fund – Briefs with ties to big business and high-profile clients

By RUSSELL FINDLAY Scottish Sun 15 February 2015

A TOP law firm has been hit with a multi-million pound writ linked to a finance company at the centre of a fraud investigation.

Legal practice Levy & McRae — which acts for footballers, politicians, cops and newspapers — faces the claim over its role in connection with £400million investment scheme Heather Capital.

It’s claimed millions of pounds went missing following the collapse of the hedge fund. And The Scottish Sun told last week how four men — including tycoon Gregory King — have been reported to prosecutors probing the allegations.

King, 46, ran Heather subsidiary Mathon, where Sheriff Peter Watson — a former senior partner at Levy & McRae — was also briefly a director.

The Court of Session summons was served on the firm six months after he left the legal firm.

Watson is one of the country’s most high-profile lawyers and spent 33 years with Levy & McRae before quitting to set up his own business.

The visiting Strathclyde University professor sat on an expert panel created by former First Minister Alex Salmond to look into media regulation in Scotland.

Watson also acted for former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini after she was harassed by a campaigner who was later jailed.

‘Their clients are a who’s who of Scotland’ And he includes ex-Glasgow City Council chief Steven Purcell among his list of clients, as well as senior police and prison officers.

The legal expert, 61 — chairman of Yorkhill Sick Kids’ Hospital charity — has also acted for former Rangers owner Sir David Murray.

And a Gers supporters’ group closed down its website following legal threats from Watson, who was working for under-fire directors Sandy and James Easdale.

A source said: “Watson and Levy & McRae are very well known and their clients are a who’s who of Scotland.”

Investors from around the world sunk their cash into Gibraltar-based fund Heather Capital, which launched in 2004.

Some of the cash was loaned to Mathon to bankroll developments across Scotland. But many of the Mathon-funded plans did not happen — and some of the cash was not repaid.

Liquidator Paul Duffy of Ernst & Young has been battling to recover investors’ cash since 2010 and is suing Heather’s auditors KPMG for negligence over their role. Isle of Man court documents — acquired by The Scottish Sun — claim Heather was operating a “Ponzi” scheme to dupe investors.

They alleged that as early as December 2006, senior KPMG staff feared that Heather Capital “may have been perpetrating a fraud”.

And in August 2007, KPMG employee Raymond Gawne told a colleague that he was “very uncomfortable” acting for the fund which “may have acted in a criminal manner”.

The claim also alleges that millions of pounds of loans passed through the client account of Glasgow lawyer Frank Cannon who acted for Heather. KPMG senior executive David McGarry sent an email to Gregory King stating: “Frank Cannon has been uncooperative, either in providing some form of explanation for all of the security documentation prepared by his firm, or in agreeing to facilitate access to Cannon’s clients’ money account”. McGarry added he did not accept “that this is due” to Cannon.

Watson declined to comment on the writ and Levy & McRae and Cannon did not respond to our requests for comment.

The Police Scotland report naming Mr King and his associates Andrew Sobolewski, Andrew Millar and Scott Carmichael is now being considered by the Crown Office.

A spokesman for Ernst & Young confirmed: “Heather Capital, via Ernst & Young, has made a claim against Levy & McRae.” And a KPMG spokesman said: “The passages in the plaintiff’s summons provide a selective and misleading picture and are drawn out simply to seek to make what is a wholly unsubstantiated case.

“The allegations are completely unfounded and are being fully contested by KPMG.”

GREGORY KING MARBELLA-based former Glasgow Academy pupil, 46, was a lawyer and taxi firm boss before launching Heather Capital in 2004. Family business dynasty includes nightclub boss cousin Stefan King.

PETER WATSON GREENOCK-born solicitor advocate, 61, carved out a fearsome reputation as a media lawyer during 33 years at Levy & McRae. He also dishes out justice as a part-time sheriff across Scotland.

KING’S £400million hedge fund Heather Capital loaned millions of pounds to Glasgow-based Mathon, of which Watson was briefly a director.

TOP lawyer and part-time sheriff Watson has acted for a string of high profile celebrity, political, sport and media clients in a glittering legal career:

Watson’s clients included Alex Salmond, Stephen Purcell, Elish Angiolini, Yorkhill Hospital Board, Rangers Chiefs.

and a further development reported by the Scottish Sun on the suspension of Sheriff Peter Watson:

Bench ban for sheriff linked to fraud probe

Lawman, 61, suspended

By RUSSELL FINDLAY 25th February 2015, Scottish Sun

A SHERIFF was suspended after he was linked to a collapsed finance firm at the centre of a massive fraud probe.

Peter Watson, 61, was barred from the bench by judges’ boss Lord President Lord Gill following an inquiry by The Scottish Sun.

Watson, whose past clients include ex-First Minister Alex Salmond, was briefly a director of Mathon, a company run by Glasgow bookie’s son Gregory King, 46.

It received millions in loans from King’s hedge fund Heather Capital which crashed owing a seven-figure sum.

Watson’s suspension came 24 hours after we revealed Heather liquidators Ernst & Young filed a multi-million court demand against his former law firm Levy & McRae.

Lord Gill, 73, can suspend sheriffs and judges if it’s “necessary for the purpose of maintaining public confidence”.

Watson forged a fearsome reputation as a media lawyer over 33 years with Levy & McRae before he left the firm six months ago.

King is one of four men named in a police report which is being considered by the Crown Office.

The Judicial Office for Scotland said last night: “Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on February 16.”

The National also recently reported on the continuing suspension of Peter Watson from the judicial bench, here:

Lawyer Peter Watson still suspended despite case ending

Martin Hannan Journalist

Peter Watson was suspended from the bench more than three years ago

LAWYER Peter Watson remains suspended from his position as a part-time sheriff despite a £28 million court action in which he was being sued having been brought to an end.

Lord Carloway, the Lord President and Scotland’s senior judge, is said by legal sources to be considering the position of Watson after Paul Duffy, the liquidator of Heather Capital, abandoned the £28m action against Levy and McRae solicitors in which Watson was a former partner.

Watson was suspended from the bench more than three years ago on February 16, 2015, after the then Lord President, Lord Gill, was informed of the claims in the case against Levy and McRae, and specifically against Watson, over Heather Capital’s collapse in 2010.

It was Watson himself who e-mailed the summons material to the Lord President’s office himself and volunteered “not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings,” as the Judicial Office stated at the time.

The statement added that Lord Gill had “concluded that … suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

Watson now has his own law business, PBW Law.

He told reporters: “I am very pleased that this action has been abandoned and I am looking forward to serving my clients now it is clear that there was no valid basis for this claim.”

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office said: “The action, in which suspended part time Sheriff Peter Watson was among the defenders, has settled.

“The Lord President will consider what, if any, steps now require to be taken?,” the spokesperson added.

 

 

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PROBE THE FED: Calls for Holyrood to probe secretive Scottish Police Federation as files reveal SPF General Secretary asked Scottish Government to withdraw £374K public cash grant funding – after social media transparency calls from cops

Calls for MSPs to probe ‘secretive’ Scottish Police Federation CALLS are being made for an influential Scottish Parliament committee to probe the highly secretive Scottish Police Federation (SPF) – which has received substantial public cash grants from the Scottish Government cumulatively totalling millions of pounds over a period of years.

The call for an audit & scrutiny of the Scottish Police Federation – which represents rank & file Police Officers – comes as files obtained via Freedom of Information legislation – reveals the General Secretary of the SPF asked the Scottish Government in May 2017 to withdraw £374,000 of public cash funding to the cash rich Police Union.

Coincidentally, the request by Police Federation boss PC Calum Steele to the Scottish Government to drop the cash payments – came seven days after the Scottish Information Commissioner stated on their twitter social media account that the Scottish Police Federation would be added to their recommendations to the Scottish Government – for compliance with Freedom of Information legislation.

However, nine months on from the Calum Steele’s request to cancel the public funding arrangement, the Scottish Government has now admitted it is still considering public cash grant funding for the Scottish Police Federation – and has not actually agreed to cut the public cash – as requested by Steele..

While the Scottish Government have so far refused to release much of the discussions on the SPF’s public cash funding arrangements, a list of payments disclosed in papers reveal the sequence of grant funding payments for the year 2016-2017 – where a total of £368,778 public cash was paid in four payments of £92,197 during April, July, October 2016, and a further payment in January 2017.

Peter Jamieson of the Scottish Government’s Police Powers and Workforce group confirmed funding is still being considered, stating: “To note, that we are still considering the Scottish Police Federation grant funding for 2017/18.”

The Scottish Government have yet to respond to a request for further details on why they are still considering public cash for the Scottish Police Federation,

However, sources have indicated civil servants and Special Advisers (SPADS) have discussed the matter of ending the grant funding, where some expressed the view that the public cash grant funding gives the Scottish Government a ‘carrot and stick’ hold over the SPF – which regularly supports Government policy in any area.

More recently, the Scottish Police Federation has been accused of having a vested interest in the leadership crisis at Police Scotland – which saw extensive efforts to oust the now former Chief Constable Phil Gormley, and replace him with DCC Iain Livingstone.

However, while the Scottish Government delay a decision on how to slip more public cash to the Scottish Police Federation, a letter from the SPF’s General Secretary Calum Steele  to Tansy Main, the Head of Police Workforce Team – claims the Scottish Police Federation is no longer reliant on the public cash.

The letter from PC Calum Steele to the Scottish Government reads as follows:

I refer to the above and to our ongoing conversations on the subject.

As you are aware the history of the Scottish Police Federation Grant was simply to ensure that no single police force was left carrying the costs of the elected officials of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF). The Scottish Government (and its predecessor bodies) paid a grant to the SPF, which was in turn utilised to reimburse the relevant force for the costs of the elected officials. This was entirely appropriate.

Since the creation of the Police Service of Scotland the issue of which force pays the costs of the elected officials of the SPF is no longer relevant. The practical effect is therefore that the SPF receives the grant in quarterly instalments only to immediately pass them to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) to meet the costs of the official’s salaries. This however creates an administrative burden for both the SPF and SPA that is completely unnecessary. It demands amongst other things that the account is audited, that accounting fees are paid and that a purely administrative set of accounts is created and published.

The grant also covered the costs of ancillary matters including (but not limited to) accoutrements, rates and rent for the SPF headquarters, the costs of the then annual conference, and the costs of the statutory meetings of the Joint Central Committee. You will be aware that the grant has reduced in value in recent years and as the accounts show, whilst continuing to cover the cost of officials, it no longer comes close to covering the costs of the items it was originally intended to.

Whilst the grant accounts shows a paper loss, the SPF considers that beyond costs of officials, we are no longer reliant on the additional grant monies to pay for these elements.

The SPF considers therefore that continued payment of a grant to the SPF makes little sense and formally request the termination of SPF grant facilities, with the monies being paid directly to the SPA, as part of the global policing settlement (or otherwise as Government sees fit).

Self-evidently the SPF would expect that in doing so this would result in the termination of the expectation that the SPF continues to reimburse the SPA for the cost associated with officials, without detriment to the provisions of the Police Federation (Scotland) Regulations, insofar as they relate to the payment of pay and pension for officials of the SPF in particular.

The SPF would also ask that the surplus elements be considered to cover any notional future costs the SPF might be expected to incur as a consequence of the Trade Union Bill.

Any scrutiny of the Scottish Police Federation’s use of public funds, and their position as a body created by legislation, is liable to be carried out by the highly effective Public Audit and Post Legislative Scrutiny Committee (PAPLS) – which took on the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) in spectacular style, providing ground breaking scrutiny of a dysfunction, secretive authority dubbed a “secret society” by MSP Alex Neil (SNP).

Among the additional FOI documents disclosed by the Scottish Government include some, but not all minutes of meetings & discussions around the grant funding for the Scottish Police Federation, and as has been consistent with recent Scottish Government releases, documents are subject to significant redactions.

However, while the letter from the SPF General Secretary to the Scottish Government reveals scant detail of SPF finances, former and currently serving Police Officers have posted their concerns on social media with regards to figures of up to ten million pounds held by the Scottish Police Federation in bank accounts & assets.

Social media postings by current and former Police Officers also refer to trips undertaken by SPF representatives including Callum Steele and suspended Sheriff Peter Watson – to various gatherings funded by the Scottish Police Federation.

Meanwhile, as current & former Police Officers & journalists asking questions of the SPF are either blocked online, or subject to social media attacks by supporters of the Scottish Police Federation and politically friendly elements – some of whom give after dinner speeches or lobby for public cash for their ventures, the Scottish Information Commissioner appears to have reneged on their enthusiasm for recommending FOI compliance for the SPF.

An earlier statement from the Scottish Information Commissioner claimed the SIC would add the SPF to their list of organisations which should be covered by Freedom of Information legislation.

The statement came in response to a request made on behalf of serving & former Police Officers – who queried why the Scottish Police Federation remained except from Freedom of Information legislation in Scotland, while their English counterpart was brought within FOI laws in England & Wales some years ago.

A twitter post from Scottish Law Reporter on 17 May 2017 pointed out  “as @PFEW_HQ is #FOI compliant in England, @ScotsPolFed should comply with #FOIScotland suggest you call for this improvement”

A tweet dated 18 May 2017 from @FOIScotland in response stated “Thanks – we’ll add it to our list of bodies to propose to Ministers. Individuals can also make their own representations to the Scot Gov”

The Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) is funded in part by police officers who pay subscriptions from their wages.

Differing from it’s Scottish counterpart – the Scottish Police Federation – which has cumulatively received millions of pounds in public cash over the years, the PFEW is not a public body and not funded by the public and is the only staff association to be subject to Freedom of Information (FoI) – which came into effect for the PFEW in April 2017 by way of the following legislation:

Freedom of Information Act etc: Police Federation for England and Wales: The Police Federation for England and Wales is to be treated for the purposes of— (a)10the Freedom of Information Act 2000,(b)the Data Protection Act 1998, and (c)section 18 of the Inquiries Act 2005, as if it were a body listed in Part 5 of Schedule 1 to the 2000 Act (public authorities).

However, nine months later in Scotland, after the Scottish Information Commissioner had said it would act on the matter, no action has been taken by the Scottish Information Commissioner to include the Scottish Police Federation in their recommendations of FOI compliance to Ministers.

Queried over the lack of action on the subject, a response from the SIC claimed the Scottish Information Commissioner could not divert financial resources to make any necessary representation to the Scottish Government.

A journalist who viewed the SIC’s claim of being under resourced –  branded their response as “a delaying tactic”.

Scottish Information Commissioner’s role in FOI transparency.

A query to the Scottish Information Commissioner of 30 May 2017 on the subject of recommending Freedom of Information compliance be applied to the Scottish Police Federation generated the following response from the SIC:

The power to designate bodies as Scottish public authorities under sections 4 or 5 of FOISA lies with Ministers. Section 43(4) of FOISA provides that the Commissioner can, from time to time, make proposals to the Ministers “for the exercise by them of their functions” under those provisions. Of course anyone can make such proposals to Ministers and we know that people do so.

It’s important that proposals to Ministers are framed in terms of considerations for designations of each body. The Commissioner’s Special Report in 2015 FOI 10 years on: Are the right organisations covered? (copy attached) suggests the sorts of considerations Ministers might apply to deciding whether or not to designate bodies under section 5 (the more complex of the two designation provisions).

We’ve made a number of proposals to Ministers over the years about bodies they might consider for designation. Most of those proposals have concerned section 5 – see consultation responses at http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/SICReports/OtherReports/otherReports.aspx

We’ve made few proposals to Ministers for consideration of designation of bodies under section 4. This is because there is rarely a need to do so. Scottish Government Bill Teams routinely ensure that primary legislation founding new bodies includes a modification of Schedule 1 of FOISA to ensure they are included as bodies under jurisdiction.

The most recent example I can recall of a section 4 proposal from the Commissioner is one in 2010 for consideration of the Court Rules Councils. I’ve attached a copy of the submission which sets out the sorts of considerations that Ministers might consider. These bodies were subsequently designated by Ministers.

The reference in our tweet is to a working list we maintain of bodies that the Commissioner might propose to Ministers. We revisit that list annually, at the latest, in the final quarter of each operational year (January – March). We research the possible considerations that might apply to designation of those bodies. If we conclude there is a persuasive case for a proposal, the Commissioner will make a proposal to that effect to the Ministers. Currently our list includes the following bodies:

Adult Protection Committee, Leisure trusts, etc, which were established other than by one or more local authorities, Learning Network West, Police Federation of Scotland

In terms of your request for comment on “non compliance of SPF in Scotland”, I hope you will appreciate that there is nothing we can offer until we have researched any designation considerations for that body. We’re grateful to you for bringing to our attention what appears to be an anomaly arising from the designation of a similar English and Welsh body under UK FOI law, but we have not yet looked into the background. Our research in this case will include looking at the reasons for the UK FOI designation and comparing issues such as legal status, function and control.

A further enquiry of September 2017 to the Scottish Information Commissioner on the subject of the Police Federation’s FOI compliance was then treated as an FOI request by the SIC, who responded, claiming they could not divert resources away from other work.

Shockingly, the Scottish Information Commissioner requested journalists make a submission to the Scottish Government instead of a fully researched submission by the Information Commissioner with all the weight such a report would carry in government & parliamentary circles.

The Information Commissioner’s response reads as follows, and accompanying documents released with the response can be found here:

Thank you for your enquiry on 29 September 2017 in which you asked for an update to the SIC’s position with regard to research or a recommendation for the inclusion of the Scottish Police Federation in FOISA. I have treated your enquiry as a request for information that we hold, because you are seeking information about the progress we have made since your media enquiry of 30 May 2017 about the FOI status of the Scottish Police Federation (our reference 201700982).

I also attach copies of my correspondence with Andrew Gunn of the FOI Unit in the Scottish Government (described in the attached schedule). I have redacted both Andrew’s, and Sinead Campbell’s email addresses as these may be personal information to which section 38(1)(b) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 applies. This should not affect the readability of the information and it is not information you asked to see.

I expect you will also want to know when we expect to carry out our research. When I wrote to you in May this year, I explained that our usual timetable for looking at potential recommendations for designation is the final quarter of the operational year (January to March 2018). This work is set out in our operational plan http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/AboutSIC/StrategicPlan.aspx. The relevant reference can be found on p10, line item 4.

Though I appreciate you are keen for us to research the status of the Police Federation of Scotland, regrettably there has been no opportunity to divert resources to the work ahead of our schedule. You do not, of course, have to wait for us to reach our conclusions; anyone can make a designation proposal to Ministers. Making your own proposal would ensure your own arguments for designation of the Police Federation of Scotland were taken into consideration.

To-date, the Scottish Information Commissioner has not made any submission to the Scottish Government on recommending the Scottish Police Federation be brought within Freedom of Information legislation – as is the case with the Police Federation of England & Wales.

And while this exemption continues, serving and former Police Officers who are still members of the SPF are effectively blacklisted or blocked on social media when they try to obtain answers to the lack of support they received from the SPF when help was needed.

Currently it is known the Scottish Police Federation are represented by law firms such as Levy and Mcrae, and Peter Black Watson of PBW Law.

During 2015, Levy and Mcrae, and their former partner Peter Black Watson were named in a multi million pound civil claim in the Court of Session.

Peter Watson – who is a member of Scotland’s judiciary, was suspended “to protect public confidence in the judiciary” by the then Lord President Lord Brian Gill.

How Scottish Police Federation spend their members money:

The Scottish Police Federation recently faced criticism for an office revamp that included the restoration of marble fireplaces and new French and Italian furnishings.

The headquarters upgrade was completed in 2015 and is said to have cost £1m, although that figure is disputed by the federation.

Concerns have been raised because the SPF receives taxpayers’ money in the form of a Scottish government grant worth £374,400.

The federation claimed “not a single penny” of taxpayer money was spent on the project at the HQ, which is in a listed building in Glasgow.

The head of Scotland’s police union was also embroiled in a spending row after splashing out £5,000 to attend a charity dinner headlined by former US president Barack Obama.

The Scottish Police Federation  paid the money to secure a table at the prestigious event hosted by Sir Tom Hunter in Edinburgh last month.

The disclosure has caused upset amid claims the dinner was a “jolly” for top brass based at the union’s Glasgow headquarters in Woodside Place.

Police Federation spending in England resulted in fraud investigation:

An alleged £1m fraud at the Police Federation in England has been referred to prosecutors.

Lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service are currently considering if criminal charges should be brought against Will Riches, the former vice-chair of the federation and a serving Metropolitan police officer.

The investigation began in March 2016 and it is alleged £1m in Police Federation funds was transferred to an organisation called the Peelers Charitable Foundation.

The Police Federation has been riven by internal divisions and was under government pressure to reform, after a series of controversies about how it spends and manages the money it raises.

It represents 123,000 rank and file police officers in England and Wales, and in 2014 Riches ran to be its chair. He got the same number of votes as his rival, but lost the job on a coin toss to Steven White, the current chair.

The Police Federation in England & Wales has previously faced allegations of bullying and secret multimillion-pound bank accounts.

 

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CAPITAL CLAIM: Court of Session ruling on Heather Capital writ paves way for legal confrontation between liquidators & law firm involved in £280m hedge fund collapse

Court of Session rules Law firm should face £28m writ proof. A RULING by Court of Session judge Lord Doherty has paved the way for a proof hearing of a multi million pound damages claim against Glasgow based law firm Levy & McRae – for their role in connection with a £280m collapsed hedge fund.

Current and former partners of law firm Levy & McRae who were named in the writ – including among them suspended judge Peter Black Watson (62) – now face a potential claim of up to £28million from Paul Duffy of Ernst & Young – the liquidators of collapsed hedge fund Heather Capital.

Allegations against numerous individuals were made before Lord Doherty in the Court of Session during a case which ran for several weeks.

This week, the Sunday Mail newspaper reported that “Pursuers including liquidator Paul Duffy say £19 million was paid from the firm’s client account to Panama-registered Niblick Investments SA – owned and controlled by jailed fraudster Nicholas “Beano” Levene. They claim the money had been sent from Heather Capital’s bank account to Levy & McRae on January 4, 2007, and transferred to Niblick five days later.

A second payment of £9.412 million was sent from Heather Capital to the firm’s client account before being transferred on to a firm of Gibraltar-based solicitors.

The liquidators’ case alleges King “created the false impression” that these companies had themselves entered into loan agreements against property with other Gibraltar firms.

The pursuers go on to state: “In fact, the money was never paid to them. It was instead paid out to third parties, undocumented and without security, out of various solicitors’ client accounts in which it had been deposited.

“Mr King and Santo Volpe (a co-director of Heather Capital) were co-conspirators in the fraudulent diversion of HC’s funds to third parties such as Nicholas Levene or companies owned and controlled by him or by Mr King, in contravention of the strategy and principles set out in Heather Capital’s investment particulars.”

Lord Doherty’s opinion ruled liquidators should not be time barred in bringing a case.

Finding for the liquidators, Lord Doherty said “The pursuer’s averments are suitable for inquiry.  A preliminary proof on prescription appears to me to be the appropriate way forward.”

SUSPENDED JUDGE NAMED IN £28M HEATHER CAPITAL WRIT:

The list of current & former Levy & Mcrae partners named in the multi million pound claim also include the solicitor & suspended sheriff – Peter Black Watson – who was suspended from the judicial bench by Scotland’s top judge Lord Gill.

Lord Gill suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson in February 2015 – after demanding sight of a multi million pound writ against Glasgow law firm Levy & McRae – where Watson was formerly a partner.

It was reported Watson offered to step aside temporarily – while the litigation concluded – however a Judicial Office spokesperson set the records straight in a statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland which read: “Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.”

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.”

“The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings. “

“Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February. On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter.”

“Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary. Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

This week, the Sunday Mail also revealed the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) – now led by Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC – is yet to act after a three year probe initiated by Wolffe’s predecessor – Frank Mulholland QC following the police probe into Heather Capital and Mathon Finance.

Marbella based Gregory King, lawyer Andrew Sobolewski, 57, of Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, accountant Andrew Millar, 63, of Cambuslang, near Glasgow, and property expert Scott Carmichael, 44, of Thorntonhall, near Glasgow, were named in the police report on Mathon sent to the Crown Office in April 2013.

Wolffe’s predecessor – Frank Mulholland – who stepped down from post of Lord Advocate without making a decision on the Heather Capital case – was recently appointed as a judge at the Court of Session – by current Lord President Lord Carloway (real name – Colin Sutherland).

The Crown Office have so far declined to say whether any action would follow against any of the four.

Full opinion of Lord Doherty: OUTER HOUSE, COURT OF SESSION [2016] CSOH 107 CA207/14

OPINION OF LORD DOHERTY In the cause

HEATHER CAPITAL LIMITED (in liquidation) and PAUL DUFFY as liquidator thereof (Pursuer)
against :
(FIRST) LEVY & McRAE; (SECOND) WILLIAM MACREATH; (THIRD) ANDREW SLEIGH; (FOURTH) ANGELA MCCRACKEN; (FIFTH) DAVID MCKIE; (SIXTH) ALASDAIR GILLIES; (SEVENTH) GARY BOOTH; (EIGHTH) PETER WATSON; and (NINTH) ALASTAIR GOODMAN (Defenders)

Pursuer:  Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC, Tariq;  Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP
Defenders:  Duncan QC, Brown;  Clyde & Co
22 July 2016

Introduction
[1]        The pursuer is a company (“HC”) in liquidation and its liquidator.  The liquidator was appointed on 7 July 2010 by order of the High Court of Justice of the Isle of Man (HC was incorporated in the Isle of Man).  The defenders are a firm of Scottish solicitors and the partners or former partners of the firm.  In this commercial action the pursuer seeks redress from the defenders on a variety of grounds.  The matter came before me for a debate.  The principal issue debated was whether the court could determine without further inquiry that each of the obligations upon which the pursuer founds has been extinguished by prescription.  The defenders also maintain that certain of the pursuer’s averments are irrelevant.

[2]        The debate took up two and a half of the three days which had been allocated for it.  Notes of argument had been prepared in advance.  These were supplemented with oral submissions, and there was reference during the course of the debate to productions which had been lodged in a joint bundle.  However, there was no joint minute relating to the productions and no agreement renouncing probation in respect of them.

The pleadings
[3]        The following is a summary of the pursuer’s averments.  Some of them are disputed.  Since they include allegations of impropriety against several people it is important to emphasise that they are averments and not established facts.  Thus, for example, Mr King has not been the subject of any criminal proceedings.  However, for the purposes of the debate the pursuer’s averments require to be taken pro veritate.

[4]        HC and its investors were defrauded by the diversion of invested funds exceeding £90 million (including £28.412 million which HC had entrusted to the defenders) under the guise of fictitious loans to various shelf companies incorporated in Gibraltar.  The mechanism of the fraud was essentially the same in each case.  A number of companies, owned and/or controlled by a director of HC, Gregory King, were incorporated in Gibraltar.  HC then entered into credit facility agreements with those companies (the “first-level special purpose vehicles” (“first-level SPVs”)), each agreement being secured by a debenture granted by the first‑level SPV.  Mr King created the false impression that the first‑level SPVs had themselves entered into loan agreements with other special purpose Gibraltar companies (the “second-level SPVs”) and that the loans to the second-level SPVs had been secured against heritable property.  On the information available to it, HC recorded loans to the first-level SPVs in its books of account.  In fact, the money was never paid to them.  It was instead paid out to third parties, undocumented and without security, out of various solicitors’ client accounts in which it had been deposited.  Mr King and Santo Volpe (a co-director of HC) were co-conspirators in the fraudulent diversion of HC’s funds to third parties such as Nicholas Levene or companies owned and controlled by him or by Mr King, in contravention of the strategy and principles set out in HC’s investment particulars.

[5]        On 4 January 2007 £19 million was transferred from HC’s bank account to the defenders’ client account.  On 24 January 2007 a further £9.412 million was transferred from HC’s bank account to the defenders’ client account.  The pursuer avers that HC was the defenders’ client; and that esto HC was not their client the defenders nevertheless received and held the payments on its behalf.  So far as HC was concerned each of the two payments was to be loaned to a first-level SPV, Westernbrook Properties Limited (“WBP”), once loan and security documentation had been executed; and WBP was to on‑lend it to a second-level SPV once a loan agreement had been executed and security over heritable property obtained.  In fact the monies were never paid to WBP.  On 9 January 2007 the defenders paid the £19 million to Niblick Investments SA (“Niblick”), a Panamanian company owned and controlled by Mr Levene.  On 29 March 2007 the defenders transferred the £9.412 million to a firm of Gibraltar solicitors, Hassans, under the reference Rosecliff Limited (a company controlled by Mr King).  In each case at the time of transfer the transfers were “undocumented, without security, and contrary to the strategy and principles set out in HC’s investment procedures”.

[6]        Early in 2007 HC’s auditors (KPMG Audit LLC (“KPMG”), the Isle of Man member firm of KPMG International Co-operative) raised questions about the propriety and recoverability of loans by HC to the first‑level SPVs.  In a memorandum dated 17 March 2007 KPMG identified concerns relating to the documentation provided in respect of loans by the first-level SPVs to second‑level SPVs.  KPMG suggested that further work should be undertaken and that additional information was required.

[7]        After KPMG had flagged up concerns Mr King and Mr Volpe compounded the fraud by taking steps, from March 2007 onwards, to conceal the true use of the funds, and to create the false impression that the fictitious loans had been repaid to HC between April and June 2007 by the first-level SPVs.  Between April and June 2007 Mr King instructed additional funds to be transferred from HC to Mathon Limited (“Mathon”) and Bathon Limited (“Bathon”).  Fictitious loans were created by Mathon and Bathon to give the appearance that those funds had been advanced to legitimate borrowers.  In fact the funds were transferred to Cannons Law LLP (‘Cannons’).  Cannons were instructed by Mr King to send payments to HC for amounts equivalent to the purported outstanding loans to (all but two of) the first‑level SPVs.  Cannons later stated to HC’s board of directors and KPMG that they had acted on behalf of the first‑level SPVs when making the repayments.  This gave the false impression that the loans to the first‑level SPVs had been repaid whereas in fact the “loans” (including the “loans” to WBP) were “repaid” by using HC’s own funds.

[8]        The board of directors of HC investigated the concerns raised by KPMG.  A board meeting was held on 6 September 2007.  Mr King and two non‑executive directors (John Bourbon and Robin James) were present and the company secretary, Andrew Ashworth, and David McGarry of KPMG were in attendance.  Mr King advised that Mr Volpe had executed loans to SPV companies where non-standard procedures had been followed, inadequate security had been given for some loans, and relevant accounting records had not been obtainable from Cannons.  Mr King stated that the loans to the SPVs had been repaid in full in May 2007.  Mr Bourbon sought to meet Mr Volpe to investigate matters but Mr Volpe refused to co-operate.  Later the same month Mr Bourbon met with Joseph Triay of Triay & Triay, Solicitors, Gibraltar to try and obtain information about the loans made by HC to the first-level SPVs.  Triay & Triay refused to provide access to the books or records of the first‑level SPVs without Mr Volpe’s consent.  Following a resolution at a board meeting of HC on 1 October 2007 Mr Bourbon, Andrew Beeman (another non‑executive director), and Mr Ashworth attended a meeting with the Isle of Man Financial Services Commission (the “FSC”) to discuss “the issues”.  On 8 October 2007, Mr Bourbon emailed Mr Triay asking whether he had contacted Mr Volpe to obtain authority to release the documents which he had requested at the meeting in Gibraltar.  On 10 October 2007 Mr Beeman made a disclosure of suspicious activity to the Isle of Man Financial Crime Unit (“FCU”).  The subject of the disclosure was Mr Volpe, and it narrated the efforts made by the non-executive directors to seek further information about the SPVs and the obstacles they faced from Mr Volpe and Cannons.  The FCU acknowledged the disclosure on 12 October 2007 and indicated that it would carry out its own enquiries.  This process did not disclose the fact that HC’s funds had been diverted to Mr Levene, Niblick, Rosecliff Limited or Mr King and that HC had accordingly suffered a loss.  On 18 October 2007, the FSC wrote to the directors of HC and asked to be kept informed of the situation.  On 26 November 2007, Mr King wrote to HC’s board of directors admitting that “an element of fraud” had been introduced into HC’s investment strategy.  Mr King blamed the fraud on Mr Volpe (who had by that time resigned as a director of HC) and Cannons.  Mr King falsely represented that the fictitious loans had been repaid.

[9]        KPMG qualified their audit opinion in the reports and financial statements for the 16 month period to 31 December 2006 and the 9 month period to 30 September 2007, both signed by KPMG on 17 December 2007.  KPMG recorded the additional steps taken to address their concerns in a file note in connection with the audits for the periods ending 31 December 2006 and 30 September 2007 (the “Completion Note”), which stated:

“The above matters had the following impact on the audit:

Fraud Risk

The risk of fraud increased to high as a result of the documentation issues surrounding the SPVs, where some form of fraud appeared to have been attempted.

This was addressed in our work by increasing audit procedures in the following areas:

• Full scope audit to 30 September 2007 to gain greater assurance over receipt of monies in relation to the SPV loans and their subsequent reinvestment

• Full audit of Mathon and Bathon accounts to 30 September 2007.  (All monies were invested in these companies as at 30 September 2007).  This audit was undertaken by their auditors, Gerber Landa & Gee, in accordance with ‘group’ audit instructions from us. As part of this work, they were instructed to perform a 100% circularisation and credit review of all significant loans.

… It was also decided by DKM, MJF and ND to undertake an audit of the nine month figures to 30 September 2007, in order to audit the receipt of monies in relation to the SPV loans and their subsequent reinvestment to assist with signing the 31 December 2006 accounts.

Audit report opinion

We have been unable to verify where funds advanced to the SPVs were invested. In addition, we were supplied with false documentation in relation to the SPVs, which appears to have been a deliberate attempt to mislead us. We consider therefore that sufficient appropriate audit evidence has not been obtained in relation to the loans advanced to the SPVs in 2006 and 2007. Given these loans were repaid in the period, we consider that the effect of this is not so material and pervasive that we are unable to form an opinion on the financial statements – instead we have issued an ‘except for’ qualified opinion.”

The qualification to the 31 December 2006 audit opinion stated:

“…[T]he evidence available to us was limited with regard to loans amounting to £38,950,000 advanced to a number of Gibraltar-incorporated special purpose companies (the ‘SPCs’). As further explained in note 5, there is uncertainty regarding the purposes to which these loans were applied. Loan and security documentation was provided to us, which purported to show that these monies had been on-lent to a number of further Gibraltar-incorporated special purpose companies. We could not validate this documentation.”

Note 5 to the December 2006 accounts noted the following:

“During the accounting period to 31 December 2006 £38,950,000 was advanced to 6 Gibraltar based special purpose companies (“the SPCs”); £41,269,250 was outstanding as at 31 December 2006, including amortised discount. The lending to the SPCs was effected using standard documentation between the Company and the SPC borrower. The SPCs have related party shareholders and directors – see note 10.

There is uncertainty as to where the monies lent to the SPCs were then subsequently invested. Loan and security documentation was produced in support of this onward investment by a firm of lawyers. This documentation purported to show that the monies had been on-lent to a number of further Gibraltar incorporated special purpose companies, owned by the underlying borrowers, and secured on property. This documentation could not be validated by the auditors.

Amounts equivalent to the outstanding balances on the loans to the SPCs (including accrued interest) were received in full during the period between April and June 2007. With the exception of an amount received from the Promoter (see below), the Directors have been unable to ascertain the source of these repayments which were made via a lawyer’s client account. The funds received included an amount of US$5,333,100 from Sargon Capital Limited, the Promoter – see note 10 regarding related party transactions. The Directors are satisfied, having taken legal advice that the funds that have been received have been properly applied in repaying the SPC loan balances and are free of any encumbrance.

Investigations continue to determine what party (or parties) were involved in and were accountable for these events and whether any action should be taken against them….”

KPMG’s audit report opinion in the 30 September 2007 accounts contained substantially the same qualification.  On 6 June 2008, KPMG signed their audit report opinion on HC’s accounts for the period ended 31 December 2007.  The audit report opinion repeated the qualifications concerning the SPV loans with reference to the comparative 2006 figures.  On 5 September 2008, KPMG signed their interim review report on HC’s interim accounts for the 6 month period ended 30 June 2008.  On 12 May 2009, KPMG signed their audit report opinion on HC’s accounts for the 12 month period ended 31 December 2008.  Neither of those reports contained an audit qualification.

[10]      In 2009 the Serious Fraud Office in England and Wales opened an inquiry into Mr Levene’s business affairs, as a result of which he was charged with, and pled guilty to, fourteen counts of fraud, false accounting and obtaining money by deception.  On 5 November 2012 he was sentenced to thirteen years’ imprisonment.

[11]      Following his appointment on 7 July 2010 the liquidator (assisted by staff from the Fraud Investigations and Dispute Service at Ernst & Young LLP) sought to reconstruct HC’s affairs and account for the losses HC and its investors sustained.  The process of identifying the destination of the funds commenced in February 2011.  It included a detailed review of electronic documentation recovered from various sources.  In around June 2012, the liquidator’s team identified documents which indicated that the payments of £19 million and £9.412 million had not been lent on to  second level SPVs but had instead been paid to Niblick and Hassans.  This was confirmed on 31 August 2012, when the defenders produced copies of their client ledger to the liquidator as part of a response to a request for information made by the liquidator under section 236 of the Insolvency Act 1986.

[12]      The pursuer’s case against the defenders is presented on a number of alternative bases.  The primary remedy sought is for an accounting by the defenders to it of the whole of their intromissions from 1 January 2007 to 30 June 2007 with HC’s funds received by them into their client account, and for payment of any balance found to be due.  The pursuer avers that the defenders held those funds in trust for it, and that they paid away £19 million to Niblick and £9.412 million to Hassans in breach of trust (conclusion 1, Cond. 25‑28, and the pursuer’s fourth plea‑in‑law).  Failing an accounting by the defenders the pursuer seeks payment of £28.412 million (conclusion 2, Cond. 28, and the pursuer’s fifth plea‑in‑law).  Alternatively it seeks payment of £28.412 million by way of restoration of the value of trust property in respect that the payments were wrongly paid away in breach of trust (conclusion 3, Cond. 25‑27 and 29, and the pursuer’s sixth plea‑in‑law).  Alternatively the pursuer seeks damages of £28.412 million on grounds of the defenders’ breach of trust et separatim breach of fiduciary duties et separatim breach of contract et separatim fault and negligence et separatim dishonest assistance.

[13]      The defenders maintain that all of the obligations upon which the pursuer founds have been extinguished by the short negative prescription.  The pursuer maintains that the obligation of accounting for trust funds et separatim the obligation to restore the value of the trust property paid away are not obligations to which the short negative prescription applies:  that while they are both prescriptible obligations they are subject only to the 20 year prescription.  In relation to the obligations which are subject to the short negative prescription, the pursuer maintains that they have not been extinguished.  It avers that it was not aware of having sustained loss until after the appointment of the liquidator, and that it could not with reasonable diligence have been aware that it had suffered a loss until less than five years before the action was raised (Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973 (“the 1973 Act”), section 11(3)).  It also avers that a period when it was in error induced by the conduct of the defenders should not be reckoned as part of the prescriptive period (1973 Act, section 6(4)(a)(ii)).  I shall examine these averments more closely later.

The parties’ submissions:  Prescription

[14]      As one would expect, there was much common ground in relation to the law.  It was accepted that the pursuer’s claims for damages for breach of trust, breach of contract, fault and negligence, breach of fiduciary duties, and dishonest assistance were founded upon obligations to which the short negative prescription applied;  and that prima facie those obligations had been extinguished by prescription unless the running of the prescriptive period had been postponed by virtue of section 11(3), or a period was not to be reckoned as part of the prescriptive period because of the operation of section 6(4)(a)(ii).

[15]      Parties were at odds whether the obligations underlying the pursuer’s claims (i) for an accounting for trust funds and (ii) for restoration of the value of trust property paid away were obligations to which section 6 applied.

[16]      In relation to these two obligations Mr Duncan submitted that the defenders’ plea of prescription should be sustained and the action should be dismissed.  Cases such as Barns v Barns’ Trs (1857) 19 D. 626 demonstrated that prior to the 1973 Act obligations of a trustee to account for trust funds and to answer for transactions carried out as a trustee prescribed under the old long negative prescription.  In the present case the defenders had produced accounts ‑ the client account ledger showing the payments in and out.  While as a matter of averment the pursuer sought an accounting for trust funds in reality the claim was truly one for reparation for breach of trust.  Obligations to make reparation for breach of trust were obligations which were subject to the short negative prescription:  1973 Act, Schedule 1, paragraph l(d), and Clark’s Judicial Factor v.  Clark’s Executors [2015] CSOH 53 per Lord Burns at paragraph 132.  So far as the claim for restoration of the value of trust property was concerned Mr Duncan submitted, without developing the submission, that Hobday v Kirkpatrick’s Trustees 1985 SLT 197 was a doubtful decision which should not be followed.  In any case, Hobday was distinguishable on two grounds.  Any trust here would have been a trust which was incidental to a commercial transaction the terms of which were governed by contract, as distinct from a traditional trust.  Further, if the obligation here was not one to make reparation it was one to which paragraph 1(g) of Schedule 1 applied.  Moreover, even if section 6 did not apply to an obligation to restore the value of trust property the reality here was that the claim was really one for reparation for breach of trust.  The transactions in question had long ago been completed, any trust which may have existed was no longer in existence, and there was now no entitlement to have the trust fund reconstituted.  In such circumstances there was no right to restoration of the value of trust property, only a right to damages for breach of trust.  The observations of Lord Reed in AlB Group (UK) plc v Mark Redler & Co Solicitors [2015] AC 1503 at paragraphs [91] et seq. were relied upon by way of analogy in support of that proposition.

[17]      Lord Davidson submitted that on a proper construction of sections 6 and 7 and Schedules 1, 2 and 3 neither of these obligations were obligations governed by section 6.  They were both obligations to which the long‑stop 20 year prescriptive period (section 7) applied.  In relation to a trustee’s liability to account for trust funds reference was made to Cockburn v Clark 1885 12 R 707, Moir v Robertson 1924 SLT 435, Collins v EIS Financial Services Ltd 1995 S.C.L.R. 628;  and Barns v Barns’ Trs, supra.  Obligations of accounting for trust funds were specifically excluded from the obligations of accounting to which section 6 applied (Schedule 1, paragraph 1(f)).  The obligation of a trustee to produce accounts was an imprescriptible obligation (Schedule 3, paragraph (e)(i));  and the obligation of accounting for trust funds and a trustee’s obligation to restore to the trust the value of trust property wrongly paid away were obligations which were subject only to the long negative prescription (Johnston, Prescription and Limitation (2nd ed), paragraphs 3.23 to 3.29, and 6.31).  The trust purposes here had been to pay the money to WBP (cf. The Mortgage Corporation v Mitchells Roberton 1997 SLT 1305).  The money had been paid away to others in breach of trust.  The obligation of a trustee to restore to the trust the value of property wrongly paid away was not an obligation to make reparation to which s. 6 applied: Hobday v Kirkpatrick’s Trustees, supra;  Johnston, supra, paragraph 6.26.

[18]      Turning to section 11(3), it was common ground that the onus lay upon the pursuer to obtain the benefit of the subsection.  The parties differed as to the date when the pursuer actually became aware that it had suffered loss.  The pursuer avers that it did not become so aware until August 2012.  Mr Duncan submitted that averment could not be taken at face value in light of other averments which the pursuer made.  Standing what it had been told by KPMG and by Mr King the pursuer was aware by January 2008 that it had suffered loss.  The fact that it was told and understood that the loss had been repaid and made good was neither here nor there.  It knew that, until the supposed repayment, losses had been incurred.  It was irrelevant that the losses might have been reversed thereafter:  Jackson v Clydesdale Bank plc 2003 SLT 854.  In response Lord Davidson submitted that while the pursuer’s averments demonstrated knowledge by January 2008 that there had been an element of fraud down‑stream affecting purported loans between first‑level SPVs (including WBP) and second‑level SPVs, there had been no knowledge that the loans by HC to first‑level SPVs such as WBP were affected.  It had not been apparent then that HC had sustained any loss.

[19]      In relation to constructive awareness the pursuer avers that it could not with reasonable diligence have become aware that loss, injury or damage had occurred until February 2011 at the earliest.  Mr Duncan maintained that, once again, it was difficult to reconcile the pursuer’s averment about the earliest date for constructive knowledge with its averments about the earlier knowledge which the non-executive directors had obtained from KPMG and Mr King.  In some respects the pursuer’s pleadings were uncandid.  In particular, the pursuer did not admit the terms of the letter of 4 January 2008 from KPMG or provide any explanation of the steps, if any, taken in response to its contents.  That letter had made it very clear how serious the need for further investigation was, and that the further investigation required to be put in train by the pursuer.  The pursuer’s averments of reasonable diligence by it were vague.  For the period after 4 January 2008 there was no adequate explanation of precisely what was done and when it was done.  This was not the type of case where the sort of bald averments which the pursuer made could ever be sufficient (Beverage & Kellas WS v Abercromby 1997 SC 88; Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paul LLP [2015] CSOH 150;  Paragon Finance plc v DB Thackerer [1999] 1 All ER 400).  In response Lord Davidson submitted that in Cond. 5 and Cond. 19 the pursuer had set out a relevant case for inquiry that February 2001 was the earliest date for constructive awareness.  In Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paul LLP, supra, Lord Tyre had gone too far too fast in dismissing the pursuer’s case.  It could not be said at this stage that the pursuer had not done what an ordinary person would have done in all the circumstances: Glasper v Rodger 1996 SLT 44;  Adams v Thorntons WS 2005 1 SC 30.  While on record the pursuer’s response to the defenders’ averments concerning the despatch and terms of the KPMG letter of 4 January 2008 were met with a general denial, Lord Davidson accepted that the letter had indeed been received by the pursuer shortly after it was sent.  The lack of any appropriate response to the defenders’ averments about the letter had been an oversight.  He suggested that was regrettable but not of major importance, because all of the matters raised in the letter had in fact been addressed by the pursuer elsewhere in its pleadings.  The information which the pursuer had from KPMG had not pointed to the need for the pursuer to carry out further inquiries of its own.

[20]      The pursuer’s averments invoking reliance upon section 6(4) are contained in Cond. 39.  Mr Duncan submitted that they were irrelevant.  First, there was no relevant averment of error.  The pursuer appeared to rely upon the existence of a duty on the part of the defenders to advise the pursuer about a possible claim against them, but there was no such duty (Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paull & Williamson LLP, supra, per Lord Tyre at paragraphs 33-35).  Nor were there relevant averments that the error was induced by “conduct” of the defenders.  That word should be given its ordinary meaning, which was positive actings.  A pure omission was not “conduct” within the meaning of that term in section 6(4)(a)(ii):  Johnston at paragraph 6.126, Trustees of Rex Proctor & Partners Retirement Benefits Scheme [2015] CSOH 83, at paragraph 207, and Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paull & Williamson LLP, supra, per Lord Tyre at paragraph 34.  No assistance was to be gained from looking at particular statutory definitions of conduct applying to very different contexts from the present one.  The onus in relation to the proviso lay on the pursuer, just as it did in relation to all the other requirements of section 6(4).  Section 6(4) was an exception to the general rule set out in section 6(1) and it was for the pursuer to bring itself within the exception.  Properly read, Lord Penrose’s observations at paragraphs 33 and 66 of Adams v Thorntons WS were authority to that effect.  Those observations formed part of the ratio of the decision and were binding on the Outer House whether or not the court took the view that they conflicted with the observations of Lord Millett at paragraph 110 of BP Exploration Operating Co ltd v Chevron Transport (Scotland) 2002 SC (HL) 19.  In any case, the issue of onus was immaterial in the present case.  The pursuer’s averments as to reasonable diligence were irrelevant to instruct a case under section 11(3) for postponing the running of the prescriptive period, and the same averments were equally irrelevant to instruct a case that the proviso was satisfied.

[21]      Lord Davidson submitted that the pursuer’s averments were sufficient to satisfy the requirements of section 6(4)(a)(ii).  An error had been identified.  If I understood him correctly, there was error as to whom the funds in the defenders’ client account were remitted by them and error as to whether the pursuer had a possible right of action against the defenders.  The ordinary meaning of the word “conduct” was sufficiently wide to include an omission to act where, as here, the debtor owed the creditor a duty to act.  Construing “conduct” as being limited to positive acts was an unduly restrictive interpretation.  The tentative views to the contrary expressed in Johnston at paragraph 6.126, in Trustees of Rex Proctor & Partners Retirement Benefits Scheme, supra, at paragraph 207 (by me), and by Lord Tyre in Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paull & Williamson LLP, supra, at paragraph 34 should not be followed.  It was worth noting that in other statutory contexts “conduct” had not been restricted to positive acts (see e.g. Companies Act 2006, section 239(5);  Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013, section 68(4);  Counter‑Terrorism and Security Act 2015, section 14);  and that in R v Rai (Thomas) [2001] 1 Cr. App. R 242 the expression “words or conduct” had been held to include circumstances where a person failed to inform a building authority that building works no longer needed to be carried out.  A broad view was to be taken when considering what the subsection required (BP Exploration Co Ltd v Chevron, supra, per Lord Hope at paragraph 31, Lord Clyde at paragraphs 66-67, Lord Millet at paragraph 97).  The subsection was not to be construed restrictively (Dryburgh v Scotts Media Tax Ltd 2014 SC 651, per the Opinion of the Court delivered by Lord Drummond Young at paragraph 20).  The onus of satisfying the requirements of section 6(4)(a)(ii) rested upon the pursuer; but that was not so in relation to the proviso to section 6(4).  It was for the defenders to invoke the proviso and it was for them to demonstrate that time should not be included in the period of error (BP Exploration Operating Co ltd v Chevron Transport (Scotland), supra, per Lord Millet at paragraph 110;  United Central Bakeries v Spooner Industries Limited [2013] CSOH 150, per Lord Hodge at paragraph 117;  Johnston, supra, at paragraphs 6.109 and 6.107).  Read in context, Lord Penrose’s observations at paragraphs 33 and 66 of Adams v Thorntons WS, supra, ought not to be read as saying anything different.  If Lord Penrose was to be read as stating that the onus in relation to the proviso lay on the creditor that was contrary to BP Exploration Operating Co ltd v Chevron Transport (Scotland), supra.  If that was indeed what Lord Penrose said it did not form part of the ratio of the decision, and it should not be followed.  In any event, if, contrary to the pursuer’s submission, the onus in relation to the proviso was on the pursuer, the averments of reasonable diligence made by it anent section 11(3) were also sufficient to make out a case under the proviso which was suitable for inquiry.

[22]      Finally, Mr Duncan submitted that the court should look at the averments which the pursuer had made in Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paull & Williamson LLP, supra.  In that case it had averred that Burness had had actual knowledge of instructions given to them to transmit funds to Mr Levene but did not report it to the pursuer.  Mr Duncan submitted that the knowledge that Burness had should be imputed to the pursuer in the present action because Burness had been HC’s agent (Chapelcroft Limited v Invergordon Egg Producers Limited 1973 SLT (Notes) 37;  Adams v Thorntons WS, supra;  Blackburn Low & Co. v Vigors (1887) 12 App Cas 531;  Muir’s Executors v Craig’s Trustees 1913 SC 349;  Johnston, supra, at paragraph 6.89).  If that was correct it would fix the pursuer with knowledge alerting it to the alleged fraud more than five years before the present action was raised, and there could be no question of either section 6(4) or section 11(3) saving the claim from prescription.  In reply Lord Davidson resisted the contention that Burness’ knowledge fell to be imputed to the pursuer in the present case.  Burness had been used by Mr King in the perpetration by him of the fraud.  It would be ludicrous and unconscionable in those circumstances to impute Burness’ knowledge to the pursuer for the purposes of the present action.

Decision:  Prescription

Introduction

[23]      If the defenders’ plea of prescription is to be sustained without inquiry into the facts the court needs to be satisfied that even if the pursuer establishes all the facts which it avers the obligations it founds upon have prescribed.

Pre-1973 Act law

[24]      Counsel made reference to the pre‑1973 Act law concerning the prescription of obligations of trustees.  I did not understand it to be disputed that prior to the 1973 Act obligations of trustees to account for trust property, or to restore the value of trust property disposed of in breach of trust, prescribed under the long negative prescription (see eg Barns v Barns’ Trs, supra, and the cases there discussed;  and the Scottish Law Commission Report no 15, Reform of the Law Relating to Prescription and Limitation of Actions, Part III, paragraphs 23-27, for a brief general summary of the previous law).  The issues of prescription which arise before me are governed by the 1973 Act.  While the excursus to the former law was not without interest, ultimately it has not assisted me in reaching the conclusions which I have reached.

Accounting for trust funds

[25]      The law relating to accounting for trust funds appears to me to be clear.  The short negative prescription applies to ordinary obligations of accounting, but it does not apply to obligations of accounting for trust funds (1973 Act, Schedule 1, paragraph 1(f)).  The obligation of a trustee to produce trust accounts is an imprescriptible obligation (Schedule 3, paragraph (e)(i)).  The liability is enforceable by means of an action of count, reckoning and payment (Johnston, supra, paragraph 3.28).  On the other hand, the liability to make payment of the sum due in an accounting for trust funds is neither imprescriptible nor is it subject to the short negative prescription.  It is governed only by the long negative prescription (1973 Act, section 7(2);  Johnston, supra, paragraphs 3.23 to 3.29, 6.31; Russell, Prescription and Limitation of Actions (7th ed), pages  73-74, 115).

[26]      On its averments the pursuer’s primary case is for an accounting for trust funds.  The defenders dispute that they held the relevant funds as trustee, but that is a matter which cannot be resolved on the pleadings.  Given that they deny the existence of a trust and of a liability to account for trust funds, it is difficult to see that they can maintain that they have produced trust accounts: and that is certainly not the position on the pursuer’s averments.  The obligation founded upon in the primary case does not bear to be an obligation to make reparation for breach of trust (Schedule 1, paragraph 1(d)) or an obligation arising from, or by reason of any breach of, a contract or promise (Schedule 1, paragraph 1(g)):  and I am not persuaded that at a debate ‑ where the pursuer’s averments require to be taken pro veritate – the court can or should re-characterise the obligation upon which the pursuer founds and treat it instead as if it were an obligation of a different nature.

[27]      In my opinion the pursuer’s averments as to the existence of a trust and of an obligation to account for trust funds are sufficient to entitle it to inquiry.  It cannot be said that the pursuer is bound to fail (or that the defenders’ prescription plea is bound to succeed) even if the pursuer establishes all it avers.

Breach of trust

[28]      As an alternative to an accounting for trust funds the pursuer seeks restoration of the value of trust property paid away in breach of trust.  The third conclusion and the sixth plea‑in‑law somewhat confusingly refer to “recompense”, but it is clear from the pursuer’s averments in Cond. 29 and 39 that restoration to the trust is what is sought.

[29]      In my opinion a trustee’s obligation to restore the value of trust property to the trust is not an obligation to which the short negative prescription applies.  I am not persuaded that Hobday v Kirkpatrick’s Trustees, supra, was wrongly decided.  I agree with Lord Cowie (1985 SLT 197, at page 199) that an obligation of that nature is not an obligation arising from liability to make reparation within the meaning of paragraph 1(d) of Schedule 1 (see also Johnston, supra, paragraph 6.26).  Rather, it is an obligation to which only the long negative prescription applies (section 7(2)).

[30]      I am not persuaded that it is possible to distinguish the present case from Hobday without any inquiry into the facts.  Mr Duncan’s first suggested ground of difference was that here the court could and should treat the obligation to restore the value of trust property to the trust as if it were a mere contractual obligation or an obligation arising by reason of breach of contract.  However, that is not the nature of the obligation upon which, on averment, the pursuer founds; and without establishing the facts I see no proper basis for proceeding as if it was.  Even if Lord Reed’s observations in AlB Group (UK) plc v Mark Redler & Co Solicitors, supra, had tended to support Mr Duncan’s suggested approach I would have been very hesitant indeed to treat observations on the English law of equitable compensation as being transferable to the Scots law of trusts: but in my opinion the observations do not assist Mr Duncan.  On the contrary, Lord Reed was at pains to distinguish claims for damages from claims for equitable compensation (see e.g. paragraphs 134, 137).  The second suggested ground of difference was that if the obligation here was not an obligation to make reparation it was an obligation arising from, or by reason of a breach of, a contract or promise and that it fell within Schedule 1, paragraph 1(g).  But prima facie the obligation to restore the value of trust property to the trust upon which the pursuer founds is an obligation of a different character from the obligations described in Schedule 1, paragraph 1(g) (cf. AlB Group (UK) plc v Mark Redler & Co Solicitors, per Lord Reed at paragraph 137).

[31]      Once again, in my opinion the pursuer’s averments of trust and of an obligation to restore the value of trust property are suitable for inquiry.  It cannot be said that the pursuer is bound to fail (or that the defenders’ prescription plea is bound to succeed) even if the pursuer establishes all it avers.

Cases to which the short negative prescription does apply

[32]      At the debate the pursuer proceeded on the basis that each of the remaining alternative cases advanced by it (viz claims for damages for breach of trust, breach of contract, fault and negligence, breach of fiduciary duties, and dishonest assistance) was subject to the short negative prescription.  I understood the pursuer to accept that these claims for damages will have been extinguished unless (in terms of section 6(4)) a period of time is not to be reckoned as part of the prescriptive period, or the commencement of the prescriptive period was postponed (by virtue of section 11(3)).

Section 11(3)

[33]      I am not persuaded that I can determine on the pleadings that the pursuer had actual awareness that it had suffered loss more than five years before the action was raised.  It avers it was not aware that it had suffered loss until a date later than five years before the action was raised.  I require to take that averment pro veritate unless other averments made by the pursuer are plainly inconsistent with it and clearly show actual awareness at an earlier date.  I am not satisfied that there are any such averments.  As a result of the events of 2007 the pursuer became aware (i) that substantial sums lent by it to first‑level SPVs, including the £19 million and the £9.412 million, had not been on‑lent by first level SPVs to second‑level SPVs;  (ii) that instead it had been transferred to other unknown recipients for unknown purposes;  (iii) that there had been no valid security granted to first‑level SPVs in relation to the transfers to such recipients;  (iv) that the loan and security documentation relating to the purported transactions with second‑level SPVs was invalid;  (v) fraud had been involved;  (vi) Mr King had alleged to the non-executive directors of the pursuer that Mr Volpe and Cannons had been responsible for the fraud;  (vii) that the pursuer had received via Cannons sums tendered as repayment of each of the loans to SPVs including the two purported loans to WBP.  In my opinion none of those matters are clearly indicative of awareness that loss had been sustained.  The pursuer’s position is that until 2012 it believed that each loan made by it had been duly advanced to the intended first‑level SPV and that the debenture granted by the first‑level SPV when the credit facility agreement with it was concluded would secure the loan; that each of its loans to SPVs had been repaid in about May 2007;  and that the irregularities which had been discovered had all been “downstream” in relation to on‑lending by the first‑level SPVs.

[34]      On the other hand I am persuaded that the pursuer’s averments do not adequately explain why it could not with reasonable diligence have discovered that it had suffered loss more than five years before the action was raised.

[35]      The letter of 4 January 2008 from KPMG made it very clear how serious the need for further investigation was, and that that further investigation required to be put in train by the pursuer.  I do not accept Lord Davidson’s contention that all of the matters raised in that letter had in fact been addressed by the pursuer elsewhere in its pleadings.  Nowhere does the pursuer acknowledge (i) that it was advised by KPMG that it was its obligation to take the actions needed to remedy the weaknesses which had been identified;  (ii) that it was advised that KPMG’s routine audit work was designed to enable it to form an audit opinion on the accounts of the companies and that that work should not be relied upon to disclose all irregularities that may exist;  (iii) that as at 4 January 2008 KPMG recommended that the Board of HC continue their investigation into the fraudulent loan and security documentation and formally document their decision as to whether or not to inform the criminal justice authorities;  (iv) that KPMG recommended that the Board of HC continue their investigation into the misapplication of funds for an unknown purpose and minute their actions and conclusions.  The report makes it crystal clear that further investigations were required and were recommended in relation to those matters.

[36]      It is plain from the averments in Cond. 5 that the audit opinions in the accounts for the 16 month period ending on 31 December 2006 and the 9 month period ending on 30 September 2007 contained very serious qualifications by KPMG; and that the audit opinion in the accounts for the year ending on 31 December 2007 (signed by KPMG on 6 June 2008) repeated the qualifications concerning the SPV loans with reference to the comparative 2006 figures.  The pursuer goes on to aver that on 5 September 2008 KPMG signed their interim review report on HC’s interim accounts for the six‑month period ending 30 June 2008 and that their “review opinion was unqualified”;  and that on 12 May 2009 KPMG signed their audit report for the 12 month period ending on 31 December 2008 and that the audit report was again unqualified.  The pursuer does not aver whether either of those reports referred back to 2006 or 2007 figures (and neither report was produced).  Apart from these averments the only other material averments were as follows (the emphasis is mine):

“Cond. 5 … Thereafter all avenues of enquiry were considered to have been pursued by HC’s board of directors, including discussing matters with the FSC and making a disclosure to the FCU; meeting with KPMG to discuss how the issue could be further investigated; obtaining legal advice; and seeking to obtain further information from inter alia Gregory King, Santo Volpe and Triay & Triay. These enquiries amounted to reasonable diligence in the circumstances of this case. HC’s board of directors, Abacus and KPMG believed that whilst there had been irregularities with the securities granted by the Second Level SPVs and as explained in the letter from Gregory King to the board of directors of HC dated 26 November 2007 that “some form of fraud had been deliberately introduced with invalid land registry details”, the funds advanced had been repaid in full, with interest, and HC had not suffered a loss. HC’s board of directors’ understanding was supported by KPMG’s investigations. KPMG verified HC’s accounts as reflecting a true and fair view of the HC’s financial conditions. This remained KPMG’s position in subsequent reports. In these circumstances, the board of directors of HC were not, and could not with reasonable diligence, have been aware that HC had suffered a loss until after the appointment of the Liquidator. The true destination of these funds was confirmed on 31 August 2012. From the date of his appointment the Liquidator (assisted by staff from the Fraud Investigations and Dispute Service at Ernst & Young LLP) sought to reconstruct HC’s affairs and so account for the losses HC and its investors sustained. This process of identifying the destination of the funds commenced in February 2011. This included a detailed review of electronic documentation recovered from various sources. In around June 2012, the Liquidator’s team identified documents which indicated that the payments to WBP had not been on lent to the Second Level SPVs but had instead been paid to Niblick and Hassans. This was only confirmed on 31 August 2012, when the First Defender produced copies of its client ledger to the Liquidator as part of a response to a request for information made by the Liquidator under section 236 of the Insolvency Act 1986. The ledger produced showed that the funds paid to the defenders by HC had been paid to Niblick and to Hassans.

Cond. 39. … Separatim, and in any event, neither the relevant board of directors of HC nor the Liquidator upon his appointment were aware, nor could they with reasonable diligence have been aware or discovered, at any point prior to the Liquidator’s appointment, that HC suffered loss, injury or damage as condescended above. Neither the relevant board of directors of HC nor the Liquidator could have, with reasonable diligence, have discovered prior to the Liquidator’s appointment that a loss of the sum of £28.412 million had been suffered by HC as previously condescended upon. Reference is made to the averments in Article 5 of Condescendence, dealing with the inquiries raised by KPMG in 2007 and the way in which those were dealt. KPMG verified HC’s accounts as reflecting a true and fair view of the HC’s financial conditions. This remained KPMG’s position in subsequent audit reports. Accordingly, the auditors had informed the relevant board of directors of HC that no loss had occurred and confirmed that position in subsequent years. Further as the witness statement dated 26 February 2010 (which is produced) by Mr Ashworth, then one of HC directors, shows, HC made an application to the High Court of Justice in the Isle of Man for the appointment of a liquidator due to cash flow (rather than asset insufficiency) reasons. This was in order that the liquidator appointed by the court could start as soon as possible with the process of realising the loans (and the real property collateral for those loans) transferred to HC by Mathon. At that point, the loans in question were HC’s main asset. Mathon, who had previously managed the loan portfolio, had been put into administration on 17 February 2010, and was therefore no longer available to perform the same service for HC. It was only following Liquidator’s investigations into the affairs of HC that the current loss, injury and damages was discovered. Accordingly, on that alternative basis, the prescriptive period had not started until some time after the Liquidator’s appointment, and at the earliest in or about February 2011. The pursuer was not aware, and it could not have with reasonable diligence been aware, that it had suffered loss of funds transferred to a third party in an undocumented and unsecured way, contrary to the HC’s investment approach and in breach of HC’s instructions. A person of ordinary prudence, exercising reasonable diligence, could not have become aware of the loss prior to February 2011. Further and in any event, in all the circumstances of the case, the pursuer had no reason either in 2007, when the transfers in question were made or at any point after that and prior to the Liquidator’s investigations to suspect the existence of a loss as previously condescended upon had occurred. Reference is made to section 11(3) of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973.”

[37]      There are a number of problems with the pursuer’s approach. First, the averments in Cond. 5 that KPMG “verified HC’s accounts as reflecting a true and fair view of the HC’s financial conditions.”, and that “… KPMG believed that … the funds advanced had been repaid in full, with interest, and HC had not suffered a loss.”, and the averment in Cond. 39 that “Accordingly, the auditors had informed the relevant board of directors of HC that no loss had occurred and confirmed that position in subsequent years.” at best place a very favourable gloss on the facts given the qualifications in the accounts to 31 December 2006 and 30 September 2007 (which qualifications were referred to in the accounts for the year to 31 December 2007 signed on 6 June 2008) and the very serious concerns expressed in the letter of 4 January 2008.  Second, the question is whether the pursuer could not with reasonable diligence have become aware that it had suffered any material loss (not necessarily the full extent of the loss actually suffered).  Third, and critically, the pursuer’s averments setting out what it did in the exercise of reasonable diligence appear to me to be vague and unspecific.  The averments do not explain precisely what the pursuer did and when it did it. In my opinion in the circumstances of the present case that simply will not do.  In light of the issues raised in the defenders’ averments it was incumbent upon the pursuer to specify in detail each of the steps which it took after receipt of the letter of 4 January 2008.  It ought to have explained what, if anything, it did to comply with the recommendations in that letter; and if it did not comply with the recommendations it ought to have explained why it did not.  The pursuer has conspicuously failed to do any of those things.  All that it proffers are vague general averments which provide no real detail as to what was done and when it was done.  In my opinion the pursuer has not discharged the onus upon it of making relevant and specific averments setting out a basis for establishing that it could not with reasonable diligence have been aware that it had suffered loss more than five years before the raising of the action.  It has not made relevant and specific averments which if established would show that it took the steps that a person of ordinary prudence would have taken if he found himself in the circumstances which the pursuer did.

[38]      Accordingly, since in order to obtain the benefit of section 11(3) the pursuer requires to demonstrate both that it was not aware and that it could not with reasonable diligence have been aware that relevant loss, injury and damage had occurred, its averments that the running of the prescriptive period was postponed in terms of section 11(3) are irrelevant.

Section 6(4):

[39]      It is well established that it is for the creditor in an obligation to invoke section 6(4).  Where the creditor relies on an error it is for him to specify what the error was, when the error commenced, and when it ceased.  The pursuer’s averments invoking section 6(4) are contained in Cond. 39:

“…The Liquidator was appointed on 7 July 2010. The defenders never advised either the relevant HC or the Liquidator about a possible claim against them (before or after that date), an obligation that was incumbent upon them as an aspect of the overall duties they owed to HC. Accordingly, any period prior to the raising of this action should not be reckoned as part of the prescriptive period in this case, due to the error induced by the conduct of the defender, which induced the pursuer to refrain from making a claim. The error was induced, in particular, by the following: (i) sending the HC funds, which constituted the first payment (as described above) to a third party, undocumented and unsecured, (ii) sending funds which constituted the second payment (as described above) to a law firm in Gibraltar, under the personal reference of Gregory King and for the purposes still unknown, (iii) not advising the relevant board of directors of HC, Abacus, or the Liquidator at any point of the true sequence of events which led to the loss of the HC funds deposited in the defenders’ client account. Reference is made to section 6(4) of the Prescription and Limitation (Scotland) Act 1973.”

[40]      The averments do not specify with the clarity one would expect the error upon which the pursuer founds.  The formulation used is not commendable.  More precise pleading could have avoided the complaint of obscurity.  However, on a benign reading I think it is tolerably clear that error having two strands is identified ‑ error as to whom the funds in the defenders’ account were remitted by them and error as to whether the pursuer had a possible right of action against the defenders.

[41]      While no date of commencement of the error is specified, it may reasonably be inferred that the pursuer’s case is that the error arose shortly after each of the £19m and £9.412m payments were remitted by the defenders to the recipients.  The pursuer does aver an end date for the error (the date of raising of the action (23 October 2014)), but that is obviously not correct as it also avers (Cond. 5) that the true recipients of the payments were confirmed on 31 August 2012.  However, in my opinion that relatively immaterial inconsistency is not a good ground for not proceeding to inquiry.

[42]      Are the failures to advise as to whom the payments were remitted and as to the existence of a possible right of action “conduct” within the meaning of section 6(4)(a)(ii)?  That depends on whether a failure to act may be “conduct”.

[43]      I agree with Lord Davidson that the view expressed in Johnston at paragraph 6.126 is tentative:

“One case in which section 11(3) may be the only way forward is where what has induced the pursuer to refrain from making a relevant claim is a negligent omission by the defender.254 Since the only error which is covered by section 6(4) is error induced by ‘words or conduct’, it is not clear that the running of prescription would be suspended by an omission rather than a positive act;  certainly, this would not be an ordinary construction of the word ‘conduct’.255

For this reason, and owing to the relief available under section 11(3), it may be better to assume that omissions inducing error may not suspend the running of prescription but that they will be capable of supporting an argument for postponing its starting date.

254 For example, where the negligent failure of solicitors to notify the appointed executor of the existence or contents of the will prevented him from raising any proceedings until he was belatedly informed of those facts: Hawkins v Clayton (1988) 164 C.L.R. 539 at 590, per Deane J.

255 Although what was at issue in ANM Group Ltd, 2008 S.L.T. 835 appears to have amounted to omissions, there is no discussion of the point there.”

As noted in Johnston, in ANM Group Ltd v Gilcomston North Ltd Lord Emslie (paragraphs 75 ‑ 77) appears to have proceeded on the basis that omissions could be conduct.  It is also interesting to note that the Lord Ordinary (Lord Macfadyen) in Adams v Thorntons WS, unreported, 19 August 2003, observed at paragraph 67:

“…It does not seem to me that to fail to convey to another person information which one does not in fact possess can be said to constitute words or conduct within the meaning of section 6(4). The position might well be different if a person did not pass on information which he had, i.e. if there was active concealment. If, for example, a solicitor withheld from his client information of which he (the solicitor) was aware and which would have alerted the client to the possibility of a claim against the solicitor, that might well be held to constitute conduct within the meaning of section 6(4)(a)(ii). Since the point does not arise in the present case, however, I prefer to reserve my opinion on it …”

The Inner House (2005 1 SC 30) was critical of the approach taken by the Lord Ordinary in the first sentence quoted.  However, there was no criticism of the views expressed in the remainder of the passage, and the Inner House’s own approach appears to have been consistent with them.  Lord Penrose opined at paragraph 66:

“[66] In my opinion, the Lord Ordinary can be said to have misdirected himself in applying to the question whether Thorntons induced error in Mr Adams criteria that depended on personal knowledge of individual partners of the facts and circumstances from which the error arose rather than the knowledge of the firm of which he was client. As I have already commented, he was not assisted in this matter by argument. Counsel for the reclaimer’s submissions to the Lord Ordinary did not cover this ground. But the point could have been of materiality if the evidence had been available for the court to consider. Mr Adams’ complaint is against Thorntons, and is that at March 1995 and in and after 1997, he was left in ignorance of the possibility that he might have a claim against the firm by silence on the part of the firm associated with positive advice that he had a remedy against his former associate, and by the firm subsequently acting for him in pursuing that action….”

Lord Penrose went on to hold that on the facts found by the Lord Ordinary the obligation founded upon had prescribed.  While in the circumstances of that case silence was said to have been associated with positive advice and actings, it is not clear that was critical to Lord Penrose’s view that the matter might have been of some materiality.

[44]      I turn to the more recent decisions.  In Trustees of Rex Proctor & Partners Retirement Benefits Scheme, supra, I agreed (at paragraph 207) with the view expressed in Johnston that on an ordinary construction “conduct” requires a positive act.  In Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paull & Williamson LLP, supra, (at paragraph 34) Lord Tyre concurred with the views expressed in Johnston and by me in Rex Proctor.  In neither case does there appear to have been extensive submissions in relation to the matter.

[45]      On a fair reading of the pursuer’s averments in Cond. 39 it maintains that the defenders had an obligation to advise it of the true sequence of events which led to the loss of the funds and that there was a possible claim against them (cf. Rex Proctor, paragraph 207).  On the pleadings I am not satisfied that the pursuer is bound to fail to establish the grounds of action he puts forward, or that those grounds could not provide a basis for the obligation to advise it which the pursuer avers the defenders had (see eg Dryburgh v Scotts Media Tax Ltd, supra, per Opinion of the Court at paragraph 26).  In the present case, unlike Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paull & Williamson LLP (paragraph 35), my understanding is that the duty to advise is said to have arisen on several of the bases of action on which the pursuer relies.  (I also note in passing that I was unconvinced by Mr Duncan’s argument (which Lord Tyre accepted) that the existence of a continuing duty to advise would prevent prescription from ever occurring.  The operation of the proviso would be likely to prevent any such scenario).

[46]      Having heard fuller argument on the issue than I did in Rex Proctor, and having reflected further upon it, I think there is a tenable argument that to construe “conduct” as including only positive acts may be too restrictive an interpretation.  The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.) defines “conduct” as:

“Manner of conducting oneself or one’s life; behaviour; usually with more or less reference to its moral quality (good or bad). (Now the leading sense)”.

In my opinion, on a proper construction of section 6(4) the word “conduct” has its ordinary meaning of behaviour.  The expression is wide enough to include an omission to act in breach of an obligation or duty.  It is very difficult to see why it should be given a more restrictive meaning, particularly since it is clear that a broad view is to be taken to the construction of section 6(4) (BP Exploration Co Ltd v Chevron, per Lord Hope at paragraph 31, Lord Clyde at paragraphs 66‑67, Lord Millet at paragraph 97;  Dryburgh v Scotts Media Tax Ltd, supra, Opinion of the Court at paragraphs 18 ‑ 20).  Resort to the mischief rule points in the same direction.  The mischief the error provision was intended to address is broad enough to encompass error induced by a failure of the debtor to act in breach of an obligation or duty.  A construction of “conduct” which confined it to positive acts would fail to address part of the mischief.  It would be very odd indeed if innocent action inducing error fell within the purview of the provision but reprehensible inaction in breach of duty did not.  The equitable case for the latter circumstance being included within the scope of the mischief, and within the meaning of “conduct”, is as strong as the case for reprehensible action being included and stronger than the case for innocent action being included.

[47]      I turn then to the proviso.  The defenders invoke it in Answer 39:

“Esto either HC or the liquidator were in error to any extent as to whether loss had been suffered (which is denied) they could with reasonable diligence have learned the truth by, at the very latest early 2008. Reference is made to the foregoing averments anent section 11(3).”

While strictly speaking the pursuer does not respond specifically to that averment other than by way of a general denial, both parties proceeded upon the basis that the pursuer’s averments anent section 11(3) were also the matters which it founded upon in response to the defenders’ reliance upon the proviso to section 6(4).

[48]      It is a well‑established principle of statutory construction that a party seeking to avail himself of a proviso must raise and prove it, as it is in substance an exception (see Bennion on Statutory Interpretation (6th ed.), section 242 and the authorities referred to in footnote 71).  Exceptionally, a provision may be in the form of a proviso but may in fact be an independent substantive provision (ie not a “true” proviso).  I am satisfied that that is not the case here.  I am also clear that, on a proper construction of section 6, subsection (4)(a) is an exception to the general rule in subsection (1) but that the proviso is an exception to that exception.

[49]      In BP Exploration Operating Co ltd v Chevron Transport (Scotland), supra, Lord Millet opined at paragraph 110 (emphasis added):

“[110] If the matter stopped there, any obligation on the part of Transport [the creditor in the obligation] to make reparation was not extinguished by the time it was served with the present proceedings. But Transport may still succeed in showing that its obligation was extinguished before 28 September 1995 by invoking the proviso to curtail the duration of the period to be excluded from the calculation of the primary period. If it can establish that the pursuers could with reasonable diligence have discovered the error at some time before 18 August 1995, then the excluded period will end at that earlier time.”

[50]      While none of the other members of the appellate committee addressed the issue of the operation of the proviso, none expressed any reservations as to what Lord Millet said in paragraph 110 (and at paragraph 33 of his speech Lord Hope made specific reference to, and agreed with, another aspect of Lord Millet’s speech).  Moreover, in my opinion when the pleadings and the decision are examined it is clear that the committee must indeed have proceeded upon the basis which Lord Millett described.

[51]      A vessel had caused damage to loading arms at a jetty at the pursuers’ terminal.  The pursuers raised an action against Chevron Shipping (“Shipping”) averring that that company were owners of the vessel.  The pursuers averred that more than five years after the incident Shipping indicated that the owners were Chevron Tankers (“Tankers”).  The pursuers raised a second action against Tankers.  In their defences Tankers admitted ownership but averred that the vessel had been the subject of a bareboat charter and that the charterers were Chevron Transport (”Transport”).  In both the Transport action and Tankers action the defenders pled that the obligation (to make reparation) relied upon had prescribed.  In both of those actions the pursuers averred that error as to ownership had been induced by the words and conduct of Shipping acting on the defenders’ behalf.  In both cases the defenders invoked the proviso to section 6(4)(a).  The defenders averred that the pursuers could with reasonable diligence have discovered the error within five years of the incident.  They set out steps they averred ought to have been taken by the pursuers.  They averred that letters of protest written to the pursuers after the incident by the master of the vessel alerted them to the true identity of the owners.  In each case the pursuers denied that they could with reasonable diligence have discovered the error more than five years before the action was raised.  In the Tankers case the pursuers averred that they had no reason to disbelieve what Shipping had told them as to ownership; that in the circumstances reasonable diligence did not require seeking verification;  and that no indication of the true identity of the owners had been given in any of the letters of protest.  In the Transport case the pursuers did not positively aver that they could not with reasonable diligence have discovered the error within five years of the incident:  but in response to the defenders’ averments they averred that they had had no reason to disbelieve Shipping; and that even if they had doubted what Shipping said they could not have ascertained by reference to any public register that Transport were bareboat charterers.  The Lord Ordinary allowed a proof before answer in relation to all three actions.  The First Division sustained the plea of prescription in the action against Transport and allowed a proof before answer in the other two actions.  The House of Lords recalled that interlocutor and allowed a proof before answer in all three cases.  In my opinion, since in the Transport case the pursuers did not positively aver that they could not with reasonable diligence have become aware of their error within five years of the incident, their Lordships must have proceeded on the basis that it was not incumbent upon the pursuers to do so.

[52]      In United Central Bakeries v Spooner Industries Limited [2013] CSOH 150 Lord Hodge followed the same approach as Lord Millett:

“117.… The burden of showing, for the purpose of the proviso to section 6(4), when UCB could with reasonable diligence have discovered the error rested on Spooner  [the debtor in the obligation]…”

The views expressed in Johnston at paragraphs 6.109 and 6.107 accord with those of Lord Millett and Lord Hodge.

[53]      In Adams v Thorntons WS, supra, the pursuer raised an action for damages for professional negligence against his former solicitors more than 10 years after the transactions in which they had acted for him and in consequence of which he averred that he had sustained loss.  A plea of prescription was taken.  In order to defeat the prescription plea the pursuer required to establish both that the date the obligation became enforceable was postponed by virtue of section 11(3), and that he had been induced to refrain from making a relevant claim against the defenders by reason of error induced by words and conduct of certain partners of the defenders (section 6(4)(a)(ii)).  The defenders invoked the proviso to section 6(4)(a), and the pursuer made certain averments in reply.  The Lord Ordinary allowed a preliminary proof before answer on the issue of prescription.  After proof he sustained the plea.  He concluded that the pursuer had failed to establish the facts required to enable him to benefit from section 11(3) up to a point sufficiently late to avoid prescription (Adams v Thorntons WS, unreported, 19 August 2003, paragraphs 45 ‑ 46, 55 ‑ 58, 59).  In addition he was not satisfied that the pursuer had proved (i) that an erroneous belief that he had no claim against the defenders had been induced in him by any words or conduct of the defenders’ partners;  and (ii) that his reason for not pursuing a claim against the defenders between 1995 and 2000 was such induced error (paragraph 69).  So far as is apparent from the Lord Ordinary’s Opinion the issue of the proviso does not appear to have featured in submissions, and he does not seem to have made any findings in respect of it in the section of his Opinion dealing with section 6(4).  An Extra Division of the Inner House refused the pursuer’s reclaiming motion.  It decided that the Lord Ordinary reached the correct conclusion in relation to the application of section 11(3);  and that having regard to findings in fact made in connection with section 11(3) (viz that the pursuer could with reasonable diligence have been aware of the facts relevant to his claim in December 1990) the period after 17 December 1990 was not to be included in the period of error upon which the pursuer could rely for the purposes of section 6(4)(a)(ii).  Lord Penrose delivered the principal Opinion.  He observed at paragraphs 36 and 66:

“36. For sec 6(4) to provide protection the creditor must establish that he was in error, that the error was induced in one or other of the ways identified, and that he has not become disabled from relying on the error by the operation of the proviso …

66. … The first issue is whether Mr Adams has established as a fact that he was in error as to the scope of his remedies and because of that error refrained from pursuing a claim against Thorntons. If he was in error, he must then establish that the error was induced by Thorntons. And finally he must show that the error could not have been discovered with reasonable diligence until a point in time after which the discovery was irrelevant to the running of prescription against him.”

Lord Marnoch and Sir David Edward concurred that the reclaiming motion should be refused.  Each reserved his opinion in relation to the more difficult points of construction of section 6(4) and section 11(3) which had been argued but did not require to be decided (paragraphs 1 ‑ 3, 76).

[54]      In these circumstances I have considerable doubt whether it is correct to say that Lord Penrose ruled on where the onus lay in relation to the proviso.  In my opinion Mr Duncan seeks to read too much into paragraphs 36 and 66 of Lord Penrose’s Opinion.  The context was a reclaiming motion following a preliminary proof where the Lord Ordinary had made findings in fact.  In view of the facts found the question of onus in relation to the proviso was immaterial.  Onus in relation to the proviso was not a matter the Inner House needed to consider, and there is no indication that it had the benefit of submissions on the point.  Had Lord Penrose really intended to express a view at odds with Lord Millet’s I would have expected him to acknowledge that and to explain his reasons for disagreeing.  He did none of that.  In fact, while he referred to several passages in BP Exploration v Chevron he made no reference to paragraph 110.

[55]      If, contrary to my view, Lord Penrose falls to be read as holding that the onus in relation to the proviso is on the creditor, I do not accept Mr Duncan’s submission that I am bound to follow Lord Penrose on that point.  In my opinion if that was indeed what Lord Penrose said it does not form part of the ratio of the decision.  I consider that I am free to follow BP Exploration v Chevron Transport (Scotland) and Lord Hodge in United Central Bakeries v Spooner Industries Limited, and I am satisfied that I should do so.

[56]      Accordingly, in my view it is for the defenders to establish that the proviso applies so as to exclude a period from the period of error founded upon by the pursuer.  This is important because, even though I am of the view that the pursuer’s averments in relation to its reliance on section 11(3) are not adequate to set forth a case that it could not with reasonable diligence have been aware that relevant loss, injury or damage had occurred more than five years before the action was raised, it does not necessarily follow that the defenders will succeed in discharging the onus upon them of establishing that the pursuer could with reasonable diligence have discovered the error upon which it founds at a date earlier than the pursuer in fact discovered it.

[57]      In my opinion the pursuers’ averments in relation to section 6(4) are suitable for inquiry.

Pragmatism?

[58]      Since inquiry is necessary in relation to the pursuer’s averments concerning section 6(4), and since the issues relating to reasonable diligence in connection with section 6(4) and section 11(3) would be likely to cover similar ground, I have considered whether I should simply allow inquiry in relation to both of those issues.  In my opinion it would not be right to be swayed by that consideration.  The pursuer has failed to discharge the onus upon it of pleading a relevant section 11(3) case.  It would be wrong to ignore that and to allow the pursuer to elide the consequences of that failure.

Imputed knowledge

[59]      The short answer to Mr Duncan’s “imputed knowledge” submission is that the hearing before me was to debate the relevancy of the pursuer’s pleadings in this action.  Nowhere in those pleadings does the pursuer aver knowledge on the part of Burness of the matters upon which Mr Duncan seeks to rely.  That is sufficient to deal with the submission.  At a preliminary proof on prescription it will be a matter for proof whether Burness had the relevant knowledge;  and, if they did, it will be a question of law having regard to the whole circumstances established at the preliminary proof whether that knowledge falls to be imputed to the pursuer;  and, if so, for what purposes.

Decision:  other matters

[60]      Mr Duncan attacked the relevancy of the pursuer’s pleadings in a number of respects.  Ultimately he accepted that some points were not capable of being determined at debate:  it is unnecessary to mention them.  So far as the remainder are concerned, while the criticisms had been set out at length in the defenders’ note of argument Mr Duncan acknowledged that the principal issue for debate was whether the defenders’ plea of prescription could be sustained at this stage or whether a preliminary proof on prescription was required.  Since that was so he dealt briefly with the additional submissions.  In short these were (i) that the pursuer did not have relevant averments of a solicitor-client relationship between it and the defenders in relation to the payments of £19 million and £9.418 million, nor were there relevant averments as to the scope of the retainer;  (ii) that the pursuer’s averments that it had sustained a loss were irrelevant;  (iii) that on the hypothesis that the pursuer was not the defenders’ client the averments (a) that the payments had been held by the defenders in trust for the pursuer were irrelevant, (b) that the defenders owed the pursuer fiduciary duties were irrelevant;  (iv) that the pursuer’s averments that the defenders owed the pursuer a delictual duty of care were irrelevant;  and (v) that certain of the pursuer’s averments involved collateral matters and were irrelevant.

[61]      I too consider it possible to deal briefly with these submissions.  So far as matters (i) to (iv) are concerned I am not persuaded that the pursuer’s averments are insufficient to entitle it to inquiry.  I am not satisfied that the pursuer is bound to fail to establish that the defenders acted as its solicitors when it received the payments, and that they breached the duties they owed to it, even if it succeeds in proving all its averments relating to those matters (Jamieson v Jamieson 1952 SC (HL) 44).  Similarly, I am not satisfied that if the pursuer proves its averments it will fail to prove that it has suffered a loss; or that it is bound to fail to establish that the defenders owed it the fiduciary duties condescended upon;  or that it is bound to fail to establish that the defenders owed it a delictual duty of care.

[62]      The averments said to be collateral are averments of links between the eighth defender and companies controlled by Mr King;  and averments that in December 2008 an unexplained payment of £200,000 was made to the eighth defender from the same Rosecliff Limited client account at Hassans into which the £9.412 million had been paid by the defenders.  Mr Duncan submits that since none of this pre-dates either of the dates when the pursuer’s loss was sustained (in January and March 2007) it can have no possible bearing upon any of the pursuer’s grounds of action, and that it is simply “mud‑slinging”.

[63]      The averments complained of serve to give notice to the defenders of the pursuer’s intention to explore these matters at proof.  The defenders offer no explanation as to why the £200,000 payment was made, nor do they clarify whether or not its source was the £9.412 million.  If its source was the £9.412 million then part of a sum which the pursuer avers was paid away in breach of trust was in fact returned to the eighth defender.  Moreover, the acceptance of the £200,000 payment and the eighth defender’s roles or involvement with Mr King and his companies in a period soon after the two payments might be relevant to the question what, if anything, the defenders ought to have advised the pursuer between the date of the payments and the pursuer discovering where they had gone.  The matters said to be collateral might raise issues of judgement or probity which, arguably, could be relevant to the credibility and reliability of the eighth defender.  Having regard to the whole circumstances which the pursuer avers on record I am not satisfied that I can conclude at this stage that the averments complained of are necessarily collateral and irrelevant.

Conclusions

[64]      With the exception of its section 11(3) case, the pursuer’s averments are suitable for inquiry.  A preliminary proof on prescription appears to me to be the appropriate way forward.  However at counsel’s request I shall put the case out by order to discuss the terms of an appropriate interlocutor to give effect to my decision, and to discuss further procedure.

[65]      I recognise that a number of my conclusions do not coincide with Lord Tyre’s conclusions in the case of Heather Capital Limited v Burness Paull & Williamson.  We have reached the same result on the pursuer’s section 11(3) case (even though the pursuer’s averments in that regard in the present case were somewhat fuller than those considered by Lord Tyre).  Some of the matters which I have had to decide are issues which Lord Tyre does not appear to have been asked to consider.  In Burness Paull it seems that the pursuer did not argue that the obligation of accounting for trust funds and the obligation to restore the value of trust property to the trust were obligations to which the short negative prescription did not apply.  In relation to other matters – in particular section 6(4) ‑ I may have had the advantage of hearing arguments which were either additional to, or more fully developed than, the submissions made to Lord Tyre.  Be that as it may, ultimately there is no escaping the fact that we have reached different conclusions on at least three material matters, viz (i) whether there are relevant averments of error;  (ii) whether there are relevant averments of conduct by the defenders inducing the error;  and (iii) whether the onus of averment and proof in relation to the proviso rests with the creditor or debtor in the relevant obligation.

 

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JUDICIAL CAPITAL: Court clash over £400m Heather Capital collapse reveals suspended judge received £200K from Gibraltar law firm involved in £28.4m offshore cash transfers

Court hears Sheriff received £200K from law firm. DETAILS of a £200,000 payment made to a suspended Scottish judge have emerged in a court clash between liquidators of the collapsed £400m Heather Capital Hedge Fund & Glasgow based law firm Levy & Mcrae – who are being sued for £28.4million in relation to transfers of cash to offshore companies.

In an opinion issued by Lord Woolman at the Court of Session, it was revealed suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) – a former partner in Levy & McRae – received £200,000 from the client account of Hassans – a Gibraltar based law firm on 23 December 2008.

The payment to the suspended Sheriff came to light in court documents which also revealed a trail of cash transfers from Levy & Mcrae to offshore companies based in Panama, Monaco & Gibraltar.

The court also heard Gibraltar based Hassans- acted in the transfer of funds to companies incorporated in Gibraltar that were owned or controlled by Gregory King – who launched Heather Capital in 2004.

Details from the court opinion further revealed “One of the transactions concerned a company called Westernbrook Properties Limited. On 4 January 2007 the sum of £19 million was paid into the first defender’s client account. It was paid out 5 days later to an account with HSBC Private Bank in Monaco held by a Panamanian company. On 24 January the sum of £9.412 million was paid into the first defender’s client account. It was paid out on 28 March to the client account of Hassans.”

Liquidators of the now defunct hedge fund contend Heather Capital was defrauded of a sum of about £90 million. The court also heard claims Levy & McRae provided “dishonest assistance” to Heather Capital’s founder – Gregory King – now based in Spain.

Paul Duffy of Ernst & Young – who are handling Heather Capital’s affairs – is demanding  £28.4million from Levy & McRae, Mr Watson and other partners of the firm

During the hearing, legal agents acting for the liquidators also sought to obtain an order requiring suspended Sheriff Watson to disclose his involvement with Heather Capital.

However, Lord Woolman refused the request, expressing fears that granting the order would ‘encourage litigation’.

Lord Woolman said in his opinion: “I decline to do so. The details of insurance are a private matter between the insured and insurers. There are major questions involved in disclosure, including the likelihood that it would encourage speculative ‘deep pocket’ litigation.”

Since 2010, Ernst & Young have been battling to recover investors cash from the demise of Heather Capital.

In court documents filed in the Isle of Man as part of a negligence claim against accountants KPMG over their role in Heather Capital – it is claimed Heather Capital were operating a Ponzi scheme to dupe investors.

Documents allege that as early as 2006, senior KPMG staff feared Heather Capital “may have been perpetrating a fraud”.

And in August 2007, KPMG employee Raymond Gawne told a colleague that he was “very uncomfortable” acting for the fund which “may have acted in a criminal manner”.

The claim also alleges that millions of pounds of loans passed through the client account of Glasgow lawyer Frank Cannon who acted for Heather.

KPMG senior executive David McGarry sent an email to Gregory King stating: “Frank Cannon has been uncooperative, either in providing some form of explanation for all of the security documentation prepared by his firm, or in agreeing to facilitate access to Cannon’s clients’ money account”.

In July 2011, the Scottish Crime & Drug Enforcement Agency obtained search warrants to recover material from the Glasgow based Cannon Law Practice – run by Frank Cannon – as part of an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of millions of pounds of cash. Much of the allegedly stolen money passed through Cannon’s client account.

The move by Police followed a financial audit of Cannon’s Law Practice – conducted by the Law Society of Scotland in 2010, during which it was discovered millions of pounds had passed through Cannon’s client account in relation to a series of offshore transactions involving their client – Gregory King, a director of Mathon Ltd & Heather Capital.

It is unknown at this time if the Law Society of Scotland have conducted any financial audit of law firms mentioned in the latest court proceedings – where it is alleged tens of millions of pounds have passed through client accounts to offshore companies.

A report from Police Scotland naming Gregory King, Andrew Sobolewski, Andrew Millar & Scott Carmichael is still being considered by the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland & Scotland’s Crown Office. However, no decision has yet been made public on the case since the Crown Office confirmed it was considering Police reports filed with prosecutors some time during 2014.

SHERIFF, SUSPENDED:

Peter Black Watson (61) – a partner in Levy & Mcrae at the time of the transactions – was suspended from judicial position of Sheriff by Scotland’s top judge Lord Brian Gill earlier this year – after an investigation by the Scottish Sun newspaper prompted the Lord President to demand sight of a multi million pound writ against Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae.

As no register of interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary currently exists, top judge Lord Gill was unaware of Sheriff Watson’s involvement in Heather Capital until the Scottish Sun newspaper contacted the Judicial Office directly.

Watson offered to temporarily step aside from his judicial duties – while the litigation concluded – however a spokesperson for the Judicial Office told the media: “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

A statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland read: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.

The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings. Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February.

On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter. Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary. Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

Watson – who remains suspended from the judicial bench, was a director of Mathon Ltd – a key part of the Heather empire. The suspended Sheriff who now works out of PBW Law, also held shares in Aarkad PLC – a company based in the Isle of Man which channelled money into Heather Capital.

Watson was also a director of a “King & Company” – a Private Bank set up by Gregory King in Gibraltar. However, Gibraltar’s Financial Services watchdog revealed the banking license application for “King & Company” was withdrawn after two years in 2010.

In his capacity as a solicitor, and during the time Watson acted as a Sheriff – his clients included former First Minister Alex Salmond, former Rangers owners Sir David Murray, ex-Glasgow City Council leader Stephen Purcell and former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini.

The full opinion from Lord Woolman in the latest round of litigation in the Heather Capital case at Scotland’s Court of Session:

OUTER HOUSE, COURT OF SESSION [2015] CSOH 115: CA207/14

NOTE BY LORD WOOLMAN

In the cause

HEATHER CAPITAL LIMITED (IN LIQUIDATION) Pursuers; against

LEVY & McRAE AND OTHERS Defenders:

Pursuer:  Lord Davidson of Glen Clova QC;  Shepherd & Wedderburn LLP
Defenders:  Clark QC, J Brown;  Simpson & Marwick
14 August 2015

Introduction

[1]        Heather Capital Ltd (‘HC’) was incorporated in the Isle of Man in 2005.  Prior to its liquidation in 2010 it had received investments exceeding $400 million. The present action has been raised in its name by the liquidator. The first defender is the firm of Levy & McRae. The other defenders are eight individuals, who were partners in the firm in the period from 1 January 2007 to 31 December 2008.

[2]        The liquidator contends that the company was defrauded of a sum of about £90 million. The scheme involved the transfer of funds to companies incorporated in Gibraltar that were owned or controlled by one of HC’s directors, Gregory King.  A firm of solicitors in Gibraltar, Hassans, acted in these transactions.

[3]        According to the liquidator, in early 2007 HC’s auditors raised queries about these transactions.  Subsequently, Mr King sought to conceal their true nature.

[4]        One of the transactions concerned a company called Westernbrook Properties Limited. On 4 January 2007 the sum of £19 million was paid into the first defender’s client account.  It was paid out 5 days later to an account with HSBC Private Bank in Monaco held by a Panamanian company.  On 24 January the sum of £9.412 million was paid into the first defender’s client account.  It was paid out on 28 March to the client account of Hassans.

[5]        On 23 December 2008 a payment of £200,000 was made to the eighth defender, Mr Peter Watson, from Hassans’ client account.

[6]        The liquidator pleads that HC was the client of the first defender at the material time. Accordingly, the defenders owed HC certain fiduciary duties, together with an obligation to exercise the knowledge, skill and care of reasonably competent solicitors.

[7]        It is also important to notice the terms of the pursuer’s ninth plea-in-law. It states:

“the pursuer having suffered loss, injury and damage by reasons of the defenders’ dishonest assistance of Gregory King in the latter committing breach of his fiduciary duties owed to the pursuer … decree should be pronounced”

[8]        The liquidator seeks to recover the sum of £28.4 million from the defenders. He intimated the claim on 23 June 2013.  There followed extensive pre-action correspondence before the summons was served on 23 October 2014. During that period, the liquidator did not request clarification of the membership or constitution of the firm of Levy & McRae as it existed from time to time.

[9]        The summons called on 10 February 2015.  The defences were lodged a week later. They stated that three of the defenders had been wrongly convened, because they had been assumed as partners after June 2007.  They are Mr Alasdair Gillies (1 July 2007), Mr Andrew Sleigh (1 December 2008), and Mr Gary Booth (1 January 2011).

[10]      The defenders raised this matter at the preliminary hearing on 5 March, and the continued hearing on 8 May. They said it involved significant reputational damage to those three individuals. They asked for early disposal of this discrete issue.

[11]      I fixed a hearing to take place on 13 August.  About a week before the hearing, the liquidator enrolled a motion to allow a minute of amendment.  It sought to add five further individuals as defenders, on the footing that they had been partners in the first defender in the period from 4 January 2007 to date.

[12]      The liquidator gave the following reasons in support of his motion:

“The pursuer’s agents wrote to the agent for the defenders on 7 May 2015 and 7 July 2015. In those letters, the pursuer’s agent requested:

    confirmation that the defenders had adequate insurance cover in place to meet the pursuer’s claim if it was successful;
copies of the partnership agreements for each defender that the defender’s agents maintain have been wrongly convened; and
details of each defender’s capital contribution to the firm

The defenders have failed to provide any of this information to the pursuer. The pursuer has identified a further 5 current and former partners of the firm who require to be convened.

Without confirmation that the defenders have sufficient insurance cover, or evidence as to why the defenders do not incur personal liability (which depends on the circumstances of each case), the pursuer seeks to convene these partners and former partners to the action as they may be jointly and severally liable for the debts of the firm.” (emphasis added)

Liability of new partners

[13]      The liability of new partners is governed by section 17(1) of the Partnership Act 1890:

“A person who is admitted as a partner into an existing firm does not thereby become liable to the creditors of the firm for anything done before he became a partner.”

[14]      In their Joint Consultation Paper on Partnership Law (2000), the Law Commission and the Scottish Law Commission state in relation to Scots law (at 10.65):

“Where the business taken over is substantially the same as the old firm, and where that business is continued without interruption, there appears to be a general presumption that the new partnership takes over the whole liabilities as well as the assets.”

[15]      Lord Hodge considered this point in Sim v Howat & McLaren [2011] CSOH 115 at [31]:

“The presumption does not arise unless there are facts and circumstances which bring it into play. The continuation of substantially the same business without interruption is necessary for the presumption.”

He suggested a number of other relevant facts and circumstances. They included whether the new partner had made a substantial capital contribution, whether he had paid or acknowledged any of the prior debts, and whether separate accounts were kept for the new and the old firm.

[16]      Lord Hodge determined at paragraph [29] that the appropriate test was whether a new partner had “accepted liability either expressly or tacitly” for the claim.

[17]      Who is responsible for averring those facts and circumstances? The answer is clear. In Thomson Balfour v Boag & Son 1936 SC 2 Lord Fleming stated (at p16) that “it was for the pursuers to prove” that a new partner had accepted liability for the debts of the old business.

[18]      Similarly in Miller v Macleod 1973 SC 172 Lord Justice Clerk Wheatley stated (at p183):

“whether in the circumstances the pursuer has established by presumption or by proof of facts and circumstances that the new firm agreed to adopt the old debts and become liable for them. Of course, the establishment of the presumption itself is dependent upon sufficient facts being proved to sustain it, and this in my opinion entitles the Court to look at all the facts, whether they occurred before, at or after the establishment of the partnership.”

[19]      In the present case, the liquidator does not offer to prove such facts and circumstances.  Instead, he states in condescendence 1:

“the defenders have been called upon, but failed, to provide to the pursuer the evidence (including a copy of the relevant partnership agreement(s) and copies of the accounts showing capital contributions made by the partners joining the partnership after December 2008) that any new partners who joined the partnership of Levy & McRae have not, in fact, undertaken liabilities of the partnership which were in existence prior to them joining. Accordingly, all the defenders are properly convened.”

[20]      In my view, that averment fails to satisfy the test identified by the Inner House. There are no averments that would allow the liquidator to lead evidence that the three individuals either expressly or tacitly agreed to take over the existing liabilities of the previous firm.  It does not set out the basis upon which the three individuals are convened. Instead it inverts the normal rule that the pursuer must plead his case.

[21]      Given the serious nature of the allegations and the size of the claim, the liquidator required to identify the basis upon which each defender had been convened.  He also had to differentiate between the acts of those individuals who had been partners at the material time and those who had been assumed after 2007.

[22]      I shall therefore sustain the defenders’ first plea-in-law to the extent of dismissing the case, so far as laid against the third, sixth and seventh defenders.

[23]      In doing so, I observe that on 25 March, the defenders’ solicitors wrote three separate letters to the pursuer’s solicitors and stated:

“In terms of his partnership agreement, no obligation was imposed on [the relevant defender] in respect of acts or omissions prior to his assumption, nor did he provide any indemnity in respect of such matters.”

Minute of Amendment

[24]      In the minute of amendment, the pursuer seeks (a) to alter the dates for the partners called as defenders to 4 January 2007 to date; and (b) to add five individuals, all of whom have been partners of Levy & McRae at some stage in that period. The relevant dates are as follows: Anne Bennie (2000 – 2008), Calum Anderson (1 July 2014) Laura Salmond (3 November 2014), Graham Craik (5 January 2015), and Stephen Hay 2007 (c6 months in late 2007).

[25]      The minute does not include any substantive averments to indicate the basis upon which these individuals are said to have taken over prior liabilities.  Accordingly, for the same reasons as given in relation to Messrs Gillies, Sleigh and Booth, I refuse to allow receipt of the minute.

[26]      The pursuer has had ample opportunity to investigate the position. Standing the very serious nature of the allegations, and the absence of a proper basis for seeking to add the five individuals as partners, I hold that it is not in the interests of justice to follow that course.

Disclosure of the Insurance Position

[27]      The pursuer seeks an order requiring the defenders to answer questions about the insurance position.  First, will the policy cover the claim?  Second, have the defenders notified a claim to insurers?  Third, have the insurers accepted the claim?

[28]      At the May hearing, the pursuer’s then senior counsel accepted that he was not entitled to ask for that information.  Lord Davidson, however, explained that the application had been made to elide the difficulty of identifying the correct defenders.  If the claim is covered by insurance, then that issue is much less important.

[29]      There is no Scottish authority in point.  In England the matter has been considered in the context of the court’s powers under the Civil Procedure Rules.  In West London Pipeline & Storage Ltd v Total UK Ltd [2008] EWCH 1296 (Comm), David Steel J refused to allow disclosure, although he also stated at [30]:

“The trend is strongly towards a more open approach to litigation. Albeit the potential for prejudice to the defendant and his insurers must be borne in mind, in the modern age of ‘cards on the table’ the question is readily posed why should not the one factor which may be key to a claimant’s view of the merit of pursuing a claim, namely what is the limit of cover and will the costs eat it up anyway, be known?”

[30]      In XYZ v Various [2013] EWHC 3643 (QB) Thirwall J ordered very limited disclosure to demonstrate that the defendant had sufficient insurance to fund its participation to the end of the trial.  The Court of Appeal has indicated that the matter is not free from doubt: Dowling v Griffin [2014] EWCA Civ 1445.

[31]      Lord Davidson suggested that I could use the wide powers contained in rule of court 47 to order disclosure.  I decline to do so. The details of insurance are a private matter between the insured and insurers.  There are major questions involved in disclosure, including the likelihood that it would encourage speculative “deep pocket” litigation: West London at [30].

Further Procedure

[32]      I shall allow a further period of ten weeks for open adjustment, with the qualification that all substantive adjustment should be completed within eight weeks.

[33]      That lengthy period is justified by three factors.  First, there have been recent extensive adjustments to the pleadings. Second, a hearing is due to take place before the Supreme Court of Gibraltar on 24 September in respect of a Letter of Request to recover the files of Hassans.

[34]      Third Lord Tyre has reserved judgment following a recent debate in similar proceedings raised by the liquidator against Burness Paul. Mr Clark said that the decision may have a significant bearing on the present action, as the arguments on prescription and loss are very similar.

[35]      Having regard to that third factor, I shall also fix a diet of debate.  Mr Clark estimated that it would last three days. Apart from the plea of prescription, the defenders mount eleven separate challenges to the relevancy of the pursuer’s averments.

[36]      If the defenders are successful and obtain dismissal, that may save each party a considerable sum of money. Mr Clark estimated that a proof before answer would last about six weeks and cost each side several hundred thousand pounds.

Request for a witness statement from Peter Watson

[37]      The pursuer asks the court to ordain Mr Watson to provide a witness statement to explain the circumstances in which the sum of £9.5 million was paid to Hassans and the purpose of the payment of £200,000, made to him from Hassans’ client account on 23 December 2008. The pursuer seeks the statement to make his own averments “more pointed”.

[38]      I would be slow to order one witness to produce a statement in advance of the other statements. I find no compelling reason in this case to depart from the normal rule that there should be a simultaneous exchange of witness statements.  I therefore refuse the application.

 

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YOUR BANK, M’LORD? The £40m trail of secretive judicial interests, billionaires, aristocrats & offshore trusts in Hampden & Co, Scotland’s latest bank

Judges, mega rich & offshore money mix in new Scots bank. A RICH LIST of investors in Hampden & Co – Scotland’s first new bank in 30 years – reveals members of the judiciary including a suspended judge – among the ranks of billionaires, aristocrats and anonymous offshore trusts who have pumped in £40 million into the financial institution – located in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh.

Among the ranks of investors in the new bank are figures from the judiciary such as the now suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson – who was suspended from his current judicial duties by Lord President Lord Gill in February of this year – in relation to legal writs linked to the £400m collapse of hedge fund Heather Capital.

Other judicial figures include Court of Session judges and former EU judge, Scottish lawyer & academic Sir David Edward KCMG QC FRSE.

Today, the Judicial Office for Scotland refused to comment on, or confirm the identities of any judges who hold shares in the new bank.

Hampden & Co annual return reveals wealthy shareholder list. In accounts filed by Hampden & Co, Edinburgh, a Michael Scott Jones – is the registered as owner of 200,000 shares.

The Judicial Office refused to confirm or deny if this is the same Michael Scott Jones who is Court of Session judge Lord Jones.

The accounts for the bank also reveal Peter Black Watson is the holder of 400,000 shares.

While the Judicial Office refused to confirm if this is the same Peter Black Watson who was suspended by Lord President Lord Gill earlier this year “to maintain public confidence in the judiciary”, Watson’s identity as one of the shareholders of Hampden & Co has been confirmed in a report in The Scottish Sun newspaper earlier this week.

Speaking to the media today, the Judicial Office refused to be drawn on the issue of judges investments and the need for a register of judicial interests to enable the public to scrutinise judges interests and links to big business, banks and other vested interests.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office for Scotland would only say : “Personal investment decisions are a matter for individual judicial office holders.

“Judicial office holders are bound by the Statement of Principles of Judicial Ethics and in the event of a case presenting a potential conflict of interests, by reason of an investment or otherwise, will recuse themselves. These recusal decisions are a matter of public record”.

However, it is a matter of public record not one Scottish judge has declared a financial interest in a case which has resulted in a published recusal, and one senior Sheriff – Sheriff Principal Alistair Dunlop – who held shares in Tesco – did not recuse himself in the case involving the supermarket giant.

No public record of any refusals or failures of judges to recuse themselves have appeared in the list of recusals published by the judiciary.

Neither have any financial details of members of the judiciary appeared in the list of recusals.

A petition currently under consideration by the Scottish Parliament – Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary – calls for the creation of a single independently regulated register of interests containing information on judges backgrounds, their personal wealth, undeclared earnings, business & family connections inside & outside of the legal profession, offshore investments, hospitality, details on recusals and other information routinely lodged in registers of interest across all walks of public life in the UK and around the world.

The petition has cross party support from msps who backed a motion urging the Scottish Government to create a register of judicial interests at Holyrood on 7 October 2014 – reported along with video footage and the official record, here: Debating the Judges.

In an investigation earlier this week by the Scottish Sun newspaper, it was revealed there are fears among some of Hampden & Co’s shareholders of a second independence referendum, tax rises and how the business climate in Scotland will fare under policies of the SNP Scottish Government.

The bank’s investor list reveals predominantly rich, unionist shareholders such as tycoon Alastair Salvesen, self-storage tycoon Alister Jack, Greenock-born financier Malcolm Offord, Dobbie’s garden centre chief James Barnes, Edinburgh art dealer Alexander Meddowes and Stirling-based construction tycoons Duncan Fletcher & Duncan Ogilvie, both worth over £50million. Aristocratic customers includes the Queen’s cousin David Bowes-Lyons and the Earl of Rosebery’s daughter Lady Caroline Primrose.

Euripides Investments Ltd, the new bank’s second largest shareholder, is based in Jersey — meaning its ownership is secret and that owners are likely to pay less tax on profits than individual UK shareholders.

Another major shareholder is Guernsey-based Kusapi Ltd.

Hampden & Co are refusing to reveal the identity of a major Chinese investor – Cai Dang Fang – listed in Companies House records as Hampden’s fourth largest shareholder. But it’s not known whether that is a person or a company — and the bank won’t say if they are based in the UK or overseas.

The private bank’s headquarters in Charlotte Square, Edinburgh, are just a few doors away from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Bute House residence.

However, many of Hampden’s super-rich backers are staunch unionists who fear their savings may be hit by a rampant SNP push for full fiscal autonomy and another independence referendum.

Speaking to The Sun – Founder & Chairman Ray Entwistle (70) insisted “we have absolutely no intention of racing into any kind of decision”.

But referring to the SNP’s election success he warned: “I suspect a host of businesses that were anxious over the referendum last year remain partially anxious about what happened last month.

“This bank is registered in Scotland, the head office is in Edinburgh and we have a large number of friends we want to do business both in Scotland and in London.

“We are going to wait and see what happens over the next few months. “And I suspect that a lot of other businesses are waiting to see what transpires politically.”

Commenting on the bank, Deputy First Minister & Finance Secretary John Swinney said: “We have a world-leading financial services sector and a talented workforce, making Scotland a great place for new businesses to locate. The Scottish Government has been clear about its approach to taxation. This will be based on ability to pay, certainty, convenience and efficiency of collection.”

THE SUSPENDED SHERIFF

Lord Gill (73) suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) after demanding sight of a multi million pound writ against Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae – Watson’s former law firm –  which is one of several companies being sued by Heather Capital’s liquidator, Ernst & Young, after the fund’s collapse in 2010. Watson was a director of a company called Mathon Ltd, and another – Aarkad PLC – key parts of the Heather empire.

The collapsed hedge fund Heather Capital – run by lawyer Gregory King is now the subject of a Police Scotland investigation and reports to the Crown Office. Gregory King – a lawyer – is named along with three others – lawyer Andrew Sobolewski, accountant Andrew Millar and property expert Scott Carmichael in a police report.

An earlier statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland on Watson’s suspension reported: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson. The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings.

Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February. On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter.  Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

BANK OPENS AMID GLARE OF PUBLICITY:

Today, 18 June 2015 – Hampden & Co., the first private bank to come through the new process to obtain a banking licence, has opened its doors to clients after securing final regulatory approval at the beginning of June. It is the first private bank to be set up in the UK for 30 years and will address the significant demand in the UK for a new, high quality banking service.

Founded in 2010 by Ray Entwistle, the former Chairman of Adam & Company, the bank has recruited an impressive team of over 50 qualified professional bankers and support staff, headed up by Chief Executive Graeme Hartop, formerly CEO of Scottish Widows Bank.

The bank will deliver a traditional private banking service built on long-term client relationships and personal service from offices initially in Edinburgh and London. Capital of nearly £50 million has been raised for the launch, which demonstrates the confidence investors have in the business opportunity.

Ray Entwistle commented: “There is strong demand for a new private bank which delivers the right quality of service with long-term continuity of personnel and speed of decision making. Over 250 shareholders have come to the same conclusion and they have been prepared to back our experienced team with the capital required to launch our new bank.”

Graeme Hartop added: “The timing for launch is ideal as we continue to experience an improved economic environment, strong client demand and a favourable competitive landscape as a large number of the existing banks continue to deal with significant legacy issues. We will deliver a traditional client-led private banking service, fully focussed on client needs and not product sales targets, which will lead to strong client-to-banker relationships. We are delighted to be welcoming clients on board.”

 

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CAPITAL JUDGE: As top judge suspends sheriff over £28m law firm writ alleging links to £400m Heather Capital collapse, what now for Lord Gill’s battle against a register of interests & transparency for Scotland’s judiciary

£28m writ claims links Scots judiciary to £400m collapsed hedge fund. SCOTLAND’S top judge Lord Brian Gill – who has waged a bitter two year battle with MSPs over proposals to create a register of judges’ interests – has been forced to suspend a serving sheriff named in a writ involving a collapsed hedge fund.

The move came after allegations surfaced in a £28million writ naming Peter Black Watson – a part time sheriff – and his former law firm Levy and Mcrae, and a number of individuals under investigation in connection with the £400million collapse of Heather Capital –  a multi million pound hedge fund.

In response to queries from the media – the Judicial Office issued a statement revealing Lord Gill (73) suspended Sheriff Peter Black Watson (61) on 16 February 2015 – after demanding sight of a multi million pound writ against Glasgow law firm Levy & Mcrae – where Watson was formerly a partner.

It was also revealed Watson offered to step aside temporarily – while the litigation concluded – however a Judicial Office spokesperson said “The Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.”

Watson’s former law firm –  Levy & McRae, is one of several companies being sued by Heather’s liquidator, Ernst & Young, after the fund’s collapse in 2010. Watson was a director of a company called Mathon Ltd – a key part of the Heather empire.

The collapsed hedge fund Heather Capital – run by lawyer Gregory King is now the subject of a Police Scotland investigation and reports to the Crown Office. Gregory King – a lawyer – is named along with three others – lawyer Andrew Sobolewski, accountant Andrew Millar and property expert Scott Carmichael in a police report.

A statement from the Judicial Office for Scotland issued last week confirms: Sheriff Peter Watson was suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on 16 February 2015, in terms of section 34 of the Judiciary and Courts (Scotland) Act 2008.

“On Friday 13 February the Judicial Office was made aware of the existence of a summons containing certain allegations against a number of individuals including part-time sheriff Peter Watson.

The Lord President’s Private Office immediately contacted Mr Watson and he offered not to sit as a part-time sheriff on a voluntary basis, pending the outcome of those proceedings.

Mr Watson e-mailed a copy of the summons to the Lord President’s Private Office on Saturday 14 February.

On Monday 16 February the Lord President considered the matter.

Having been shown the summons, the Lord President concluded that in the circumstances a voluntary de-rostering was not appropriate and that suspension was necessary in order to maintain public confidence in the judiciary.

Mr Watson was therefore duly suspended from office on Monday 16 February 2015.”

At the Court of Session yesterday (Thursday) judge Lord Woolman heard more details of the summons mentioned by the Judicial Office in their statement relating to the suspension of Sheriff Watson – who was formerly a partner at the Glasgow based law firm of Levy and Mcrae – who are now being sued for £28 million over allegations relating to their involvement in the downfall of Heather Capital.

In CA207/14 Paul Duffy v Levy & McRae &c Shepherd & Wedderburn (Pursuers) Simpson & Marwick (Defenders) – Former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates – Richard Keen QC – who is representing Paul Duffy of Isle of Man based liquidators Ernst & Young – told the court the action proceeded on the basis of “breach of fiduciary duty and dishonest assistance”. Keen alleged there had been “a fraud” on Heather Capital. Further details were reported by the Herald newspaper here

The Scottish Sun previously reported on a dossier handed to prosecutors which focussed on Glasgow-based Mathon Ltd. Mathon was linked to the failed £400m Heather Capital hedge fund run by King.

The Gibraltar-based investment scheme was launched in 2004 and some of the cash was loaned by Mathon to bankroll developments across Scotland. But many of the Mathon-funded plans did not happen — and some of the cash was never repaid.

Reports in the Scottish Sun revealed liquidator Paul Duffy, of Ernst & Young, has been battling to recover investors’ money since being appointed in 2010. They filed a £100million writ in an Isle of Man court against accountancy giants KPMG –  who were Heather’s auditors.

In court papers, they claim that the developments were a “fabrication and a sham”. And a judge has said it is likely that “fraudulent conduct exists”.

The Scottish Sun reports:

WRIT HITS THE FAN

FIRM FIRM SLAPPED WITH COURT SUMMONS – Top legal outfit in megabucks lawsuit

Practice is linked to bust hedge fund – Briefs with ties to big business and high-profile clients

By RUSSELL FINDLAY Scottish Sun 15 February 2015

A TOP law firm has been hit with a multi-million pound writ linked to a finance company at the centre of a fraud investigation.

Legal practice Levy & McRae — which acts for footballers, politicians, cops and newspapers — faces the claim over its role in connection with £400million investment scheme Heather Capital.

It’s claimed millions of pounds went missing following the collapse of the hedge fund. And The Scottish Sun told last week how four men — including tycoon Gregory King — have been reported to prosecutors probing the allegations.

King, 46, ran Heather subsidiary Mathon, where Sheriff Peter Watson — a former senior partner at Levy & McRae — was also briefly a director.

The Court of Session summons was served on the firm six months after he left the legal firm.

Watson is one of the country’s most high-profile lawyers and spent 33 years with Levy & McRae before quitting to set up his own business.

The visiting Strathclyde University professor sat on an expert panel created by former First Minister Alex Salmond to look into media regulation in Scotland.

Watson also acted for former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini after she was harassed by a campaigner who was later jailed.

‘Their clients are a who’s who of Scotland’ And he includes ex-Glasgow City Council chief Steven Purcell among his list of clients, as well as senior police and prison officers.

The legal expert, 61 — chairman of Yorkhill Sick Kids’ Hospital charity — has also acted for former Rangers owner Sir David Murray.

And a Gers supporters’ group closed down its website following legal threats from Watson, who was working for under-fire directors Sandy and James Easdale.

A source said: “Watson and Levy & McRae are very well known and their clients are a who’s who of Scotland.”

Investors from around the world sunk their cash into Gibraltar-based fund Heather Capital, which launched in 2004.

Some of the cash was loaned to Mathon to bankroll developments across Scotland. But many of the Mathon-funded plans did not happen — and some of the cash was not repaid.

Liquidator Paul Duffy of Ernst & Young has been battling to recover investors’ cash since 2010 and is suing Heather’s auditors KPMG for negligence over their role. Isle of Man court documents — acquired by The Scottish Sun — claim Heather was operating a “Ponzi” scheme to dupe investors.

They alleged that as early as December 2006, senior KPMG staff feared that Heather Capital “may have been perpetrating a fraud”.

And in August 2007, KPMG employee Raymond Gawne told a colleague that he was “very uncomfortable” acting for the fund which “may have acted in a criminal manner”.

The claim also alleges that millions of pounds of loans passed through the client account of Glasgow lawyer Frank Cannon who acted for Heather. KPMG senior executive David McGarry sent an email to Gregory King stating: “Frank Cannon has been uncooperative, either in providing some form of explanation for all of the security documentation prepared by his firm, or in agreeing to facilitate access to Cannon’s clients’ money account”. McGarry added he did not accept “that this is due” to Cannon.

Watson declined to comment on the writ and Levy & McRae and Cannon did not respond to our requests for comment.

The Police Scotland report naming Mr King and his associates Andrew Sobolewski, Andrew Millar and Scott Carmichael is now being considered by the Crown Office.

A spokesman for Ernst & Young confirmed: “Heather Capital, via Ernst & Young, has made a claim against Levy & McRae.” And a KPMG spokesman said: “The passages in the plaintiff’s summons provide a selective and misleading picture and are drawn out simply to seek to make what is a wholly unsubstantiated case.

“The allegations are completely unfounded and are being fully contested by KPMG.”

GREGORY KING MARBELLA-based former Glasgow Academy pupil, 46, was a lawyer and taxi firm boss before launching Heather Capital in 2004. Family business dynasty includes nightclub boss cousin Stefan King.

PETER WATSON GREENOCK-born solicitor advocate, 61, carved out a fearsome reputation as a media lawyer during 33 years at Levy & McRae. He also dishes out justice as a part-time sheriff across Scotland.

KING’S £400million hedge fund Heather Capital loaned millions of pounds to Glasgow-based Mathon, of which Watson was briefly a director.

TOP lawyer and part-time sheriff Watson has acted for a string of high profile celebrity, political, sport and media clients in a glittering legal career:

Watson’s clients included Alex Salmond, Stephen Purcell, Elish Angiolini, Yorkhill Hospital Board, Rangers Chiefs.

and a further development reported by the Scottish Sun:

Bench ban for sheriff linked to fraud probe   Lawman, 61, suspended

By RUSSELL FINDLAY 25th February 2015, Scottish Sun

A SHERIFF was suspended after he was linked to a collapsed finance firm at the centre of a massive fraud probe.

Peter Watson, 61, was barred from the bench by judges’ boss Lord President Lord Gill following an inquiry by The Scottish Sun.

Watson, whose past clients include ex-First Minister Alex Salmond, was briefly a director of Mathon, a company run by Glasgow bookie’s son Gregory King, 46.

It received millions in loans from King’s hedge fund Heather Capital which
crashed owing a seven-figure sum.

Watson’s suspension came 24 hours after we revealed Heather liquidators Ernst & Young filed a multi-million court demand against his former law firm Levy & McRae.

Lord Gill, 73, can suspend sheriffs and judges if it’s “necessary for the purpose of maintaining public confidence”.

Watson forged a fearsome reputation as a media lawyer over 33 years with Levy & McRae before he left the firm six months ago.

King is one of four men named in a police report which is being considered bythe Crown Office.

The Judicial Office for Scotland said last night: “Sheriff Peter Watson was
suspended from the office of part-time sheriff on February 16.”

While the Judicial Office have so far refused to give further comment at this time on the allegations linking judges to court litigation involving collapsed hedge funds – the details surrounding directorships  of members of Scotland’s judiciary should now be brought to the attention of the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee – who are currently considering proposals to create a full register of judicial interests as called for in Petition PE1458: Register of Interests for members of Scotland’s judiciary.

The move to bring transparency to judges wealth, links to business & other interests comes after it emerged members of the judiciary have a significant proportion of their undeclared riches in offshore tax havens, arms length trusts, shareholdings in vested interests, energy firms, land ownership, companies linked to public contracts – some within the justice system itself, companies involved in organised crime and secretive links to big business, finance & banking.

This article has been updated since original publication. Previous articles on the lack of transparency within Scotland’s judiciary, investigations by Diary of Injustice including reports from the media, and video footage of debates at the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee can be found here : A Register of Interests for Scotland’s Judiciary

 

 

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