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Isabel Fraser reports
"The decision means the Cuillins belong to John MacLeod"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 18 July, 2000, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Cuillins ownership fight ruled out
John MacLeod wants 10m for the Cuillins
The Crown Estate Commission has decided not to launch a legal challenge over the ownership of the Cuillins mountain range.

The commissioners had launched an investigation after the chief of the MacLeod Clan put the range on the Isle of Skye up for sale for 10m.

John MacLeod said the sale was intended to pay for restoration of his ancestral home at Dunvegan Castle.

However, the plan came under fierce attack from environmental groups and residents on the Isle of Skye who accused him of holding the Scottish people to ransom.

John MacLeod
John MacLeod: Renovating ancestral home
Doubts were raised about the ownership of the mountains and commissioners pledged to investigate.

But the commission's inquiry has concluded that any legal action to establish Crown ownership of the range would have little prospect of success.

The senior counsel who examined the issue, James Drummond Young, QC, said: "In my opinion the Crown Estate could not properly challenge Mr MacLeod's claim of ownership of the Cuillins with the intent of securing an order that the Cuillin Mountains are the property of the Crown."

The Crown Estate, the autonomous organisation which looks after Crown properties, said as a result it would not be challenging Mr MacLeod's claim of ownership either formally or informally.

It said examination of public documents and private papers from the MacLeod estate had demonstrated a recorded title from as recently as 1966, and that this could be traced back through documents which, coupled with the evidence of possession, were sufficient to displace any rights the Crown may have claimed.

Scotland Office Minister, Brian Wilson, said: "The conclusions highlight the fact that any meaningful challenge to such claims of ownership will only come through legislative change rather than interpretation of existing Scots law."

'Beyond doubt'

Mr Wilson has asked for copies of the commission's findings to be lodged with public libraries on Skye as an important matter of public record.

Mr MacLeod said: "I am glad the rest of the world now knows beyond doubt what has always been known on Skye, that the Black Cuillins are part of the heritage of MacLeod.

"The Crown Estate's investigation has shown my confidence in that truth to be well founded, and it is a great relief to hear that public statements made beforehand by others, which questioned my personal integrity in putting the Cuillins on the market have been proved groundless.

"The Cuillin Hills are unchanging and will remain freely accessible to all, but the other national treasure for which I am responsible, Dunvegan Castle, is not so durable."

Simon Walton
Simon Walton: Dubbed price unrealistic

Mr MacLeod had insisted a 16th Century charter gave him the right to claim the mountains - a right which was challenged during a public meeting in Portree in April.

Simon Walton, of the National Trust for Scotland, expressed disappointment that the future of the Cuillins would be decided on price.

He said: "We would certainly look again if the price was nearer to what we believe to be the commercial value of between 2m and 2.5m.

"But it would be foolhardy of us and it would probably have repercussions for the whole heritage community, even if we did have the money to put that sort of price tag on the Cuillin, simply because it would price heritage bodies like the trust out of any future land purchases in Scotland."

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Cuillins sale title inquiry
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