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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 December, 2004, 13:01 GMT
Party planned after toll victory
Children celebrate
Local children celebrated the end of the tolls
Campaigners plan to celebrate winning a nine-year battle to end tolls on the Skye Bridge with a Hogmanay party.

The Skye and Kyle Against Tolls (Skat) group said a public celebration will take place to hail its "great victory".

Local MSP John Farquhar Munro suggested it take place on the actual bridge and said he was "delighted" with the win.

However, veteran toll protester Robbie the Pict said he would not be going as the islanders had little to celebrate after paying out 33m in tolls.

The Scottish Executive abolished the controversial Skye tolls after buying back the bridge from its private owners for 27m.

Protest meeting

Protesters crowded around Kyleakin Hall as the government made the historic announcement on Tuesday morning.

The move brought the long-running campaign to end the charges to an abrupt halt.

Since the bridge opened on 17 October 1995, approximately 130 protesters have been convicted in court for refusing to pay the tolls and some have even been imprisoned.

Some of those activists were present and, although thrilled with the decision, they called for action to be taken about the way the PFI contract was set up.

Campaigners say they will also continue to press for protesters' convictions to be quashed.

Although I spent the night in jail I was never tried because they dropped my charge, but those who were convicted, they should be fighting to have their convictions quashed
Arthur Cormack
Campaigner

Drew Miller, 53, who was jailed for non-payment, said: "It is just a fantastic day and a great end to a long and difficult campaign.

"A judicial review would be the way forward to look at the hidden parts of the contract.

"If the legal academics say the contract is flawed and the courts are saying something different then it needs to be looked at."

Bridge activist Arthur Cormack, 39, of Portree, said: "There are lots of questions still about why it cost 27m to buy it out.

"Although I spent the night in jail I was never tried because they dropped my charge, but those who were convicted, they should be fighting to have their convictions quashed."

'Hollow victory'

Alistair Scott, 50, and his wife Sheena locked themselves in their home in Kylerhea for six months, only opening the door to people they knew to avoid being served court papers for 17 offences of non-payment.

Mr Scott said: "I am absolutely thrilled but it is a bit like a hollow victory.

"This bridge represents nine years of abused power and squandered money, and politicians are getting plaudits for it.

"They should have done it a long time ago."

Skat described the move as a "historic event" and general secretary Andy Anderson, who was sentenced to 11 days in prison in 1999 after being convicted of non-payment, said: "After nine years and thousands of hours of voluntary work, I am delighted.

Skye Bridge
The Skye Bridge tolls have been abolished after nine years
"Many people before said we were fighting a losing battle, so I am happy.

"I have still got convictions and charges, and I think there are government ministers and civil servants who have broken the law so I would be happy to see that pursued.

"This toll has seriously damaged our economy, it has undermined the principles of democracy, and the rule of law, and it has left many hundreds of honest and decent citizens with criminal records.

"We will organise a public celebration of this great victory for the community, recognising that this was indeed a victory won by the community themselves.

"Skat may have acted as a catalyst for this struggle, but the real force was the wide support in the community.

"Campaigning will continue to remove criminal convictions that some brave supporters now have following the almost 10 years of campaigning."

Highland bash

Liberal Democrat Mr Farquhar Munro said his constituents' victory will prove cause for celebration during what is traditionally the party season.

He said: "The party will go ahead in style and I'm sure we will spread the news far and wide - and the more people that come along to celebrate with us, we will be delighted.

"We will have a dram and a ceilidh in good old Highland fashion."

However, despite the call for celebration elsewhere, high-profile protester Robbie the Pict said he did not feel in party mood.

He vowed to fight on to clear the names of protesters convicted of criminal charges and to expose the project's shortcomings through a public inquiry.

Robbie the Pict
Campaigner Robbie the Pict has vowed to clear protesters' names

The 57-year-old from Dunvegan in Skye said: "People have been mugged for the last nine years, there is no cause for celebration.

"There must be restitution and reparation.

"Demanding tolls without a licence is a criminal offence.

"There has to be a full independent inquiry. That is the only way this can be properly examined.

"Of course I am looking forward to going home free but this is not a time for soppy sentimentalism - this has been nine years of hard grind against an establishment that has been extorting money illegally, so how are we meant to feel when it stops?

"It is great when you stop banging your head against a brick wall."



SEE ALSO:
Bridge charge deal seems nearer
08 Dec 04 |  Scotland
Motorists attack bridge toll rise
07 Dec 04 |  Scotland
Skye Bridge tolls to be abolished
03 Jun 04 |  Scotland
Bridge protesters renewing fight
03 May 04 |  Scotland
Toll removal 'threatens ferries'
12 Jan 04 |  Scotland


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