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18 May 2007

Hotelier is innocent victim of racial abuse case
When Paul Smythe took over the Glendaruel Hotel he had no idea that there was a skeleton in the cupboard - an industrial tribunal with unpleasant racial overtones.
The Glendaruel Hotel sits at the heart of the quiet Clachan of Glendaruel.
The glen, with a population of roughly 165 relies heavily on tourism-related businesses and farming as its main economic drivers and whilst outwardly presents an idyllic haven for its residents, the village is marked out at government level as a typical example of a ‘failing’ rural village in an area of ‘deprivation’.
The hotel is a crucial element in the fabric of the village, and like any such business, goodwill is crucial.
Mr Smythe was therefore horrified to see the hotel splashed all over the national press for all the wrong reasons.
The first he knew of it was a call from a national newspaper on Monday morning.
Clive Jeffries, the previous owner of the hotel, was taken to the tribunal by three Polish girls who claimed that they had been forced to work up to 75 hours a week for £180, and that they had been called ‘Polish bitches’ by him and racially insulted.
The tribunal found in favour of the claimants, and they were awarded a total of £16,000.
However, when the article appeared in print, it became the classic case of ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’.
There was little if any mention in the extensive coverage of the case to tell readers that the hotel had changed hands, indeed the clear impression was given in one reputable broadsheet that the hotel was still being run by Mr Jeffries, who has in fact long departed.
Another said that no-one from the hotel had attended the hearing - which was hardly surprising in the circumstances, since the case had nothing whatsoever to do with Mr Smythe.
Sadly, however, he is suffering the consequences of his predecessor’s actions - for it goes without saying that the negative and misleading publicity generated by the case has been extremely damaging to the hotel’s business.
Mr Smythe is a newcomer to the area who purchased the hotel on January 31 this year. Far from finding he is the owner of a holiday ‘Mecca’ and haunt of the rich huntin’ shootin’ fishin’ set- as portrayed in one national paper, Paul owns and runs a modest rural nine- bedroomed hotel that caters to small family parties and the local community.
A successful businessman with many years’ experience in public service, both as the owner of a stage school and as a deputy head responsible for the well-being of 35 staff and hundreds of pupils, Paul Smythe came to Glendaruel with the vision of establishing the hotel as a quality establishment. To this end he employs local couple Steven and Claire Turton as his manager and catering manager respectively, both with over 12 years experience in the hotel trade.
Mr Smythe says that the hotel thrives on its reputation and its involvement within the community, not just as the local pub and eatery but as a local employer.
He added: “I and my team are deeply saddened by events as reported in the media this week, and we are distressed that staff in the hotel should suffer in this way.
“However, it is the past people involved in the case that should be judged, and not the hotel as a venue, or the community as a whole, or the current owner and staff’.
When the sale of the hotel went through, a clause in the contact stated that any legal issues had to be declared; clearly this was not the case.
However there are obvious concerns that justifiable anger over the appalling treatment of immigrant workers by the previous owners is going to impact on Mr Smythe’s business.
The repercussions of the tribunal have already begun. Within hours of the story appearing, e-mails to two national newspaper websites were calling for the public to ‘steer clear of Glendaruel’ and the business has suffered a string of cancellations.
Mr Smythe said that he had been in touch with the papers that had carried the story, and some of them had agreed to print clarifications. However, clarifications are never given the amount of space devoted to the original article.
“We’ve had abusive phone calls and strongly-worded e-mails from individuals who claim they were going to book with us but have changed their minds because of what they’ve read.
“Since I came here I’ve spent thousands promoting the hotel - and the area - through marketing, brochures and the internet. I cannot believe that all that work could be undone because of something which has absolutely nothing to do with us.”
However, Mr Smythe is undaunted, and is pushing ahead with an open day on Bank Holiday Monday, May 28.
“We want to open up the hotel, let people see what we are doing, and the quality of service we’re providing.
“It will give the public an opportunity to judge us on what we can provide, and I have no doubt that they will like what they see.”


Public outcry forces halt to gravestone toppling
On Tuesday afternoon, faced with growing public outrage, Argyll and Bute Council issued a statement confirming that, with immediate effect, it will only be uprooting gravestones that are deemed extremely unsafe.
This move however, was too late for countless people who had been angered and upset over gravestones that had been unceremoniously uprooted, or were earmarked to come down.
On Monday morning a group of Strachur residents won a minor battle against council workers who were attempting to uproot gravestones in the cemetery in the village.
The workers were met by several incensed locals who blockaded them, forcing them to turn round and leave the cemetery without actually overturning any stones.
Mrs Martha McNab was one of the people at the cemetery. She said: “My mother’s gravestone is here and there is no way I was letting them take it down. It was fine, but they have made it worse by pushing and shoving it to see if it was loose. Some of the stones have been up for hundreds of years and have not fallen over, even in gales. It’s pure vandalism by the council. It’s also unsightly and extremely dangerous to have stones down all over the place.
“We are all extremely angry and upset about all of this; one old lady was actually in tears this morning at the prospect of her loved one’s gravestone being taken down.”
Rae Black, of Strachur Community Council, said that she had been contacted by a member of the public over the weekend, expressing concern about what was happening in Strachur Cemetery.
She said: “Surely they could have let people know what they intended to do?
“Most of the graves in our cemetery are tended. It’s extremely distressing for relatives of the deceased to come to the cemetery and find gravestones laid flat, whatever the reason for doing so.”
Another extremely upset Strachur resident is Iain McCuaig, whose wife Jean’s gravestone is in Strachur cemetery. After noticing a yellow cross on the stone he contacted George Craig, Assistant Area Manager for Argyll and Bute Council, who explained that there are three categories of unsafe stones; extremely serious which get laid down immediately, serious, which means that three days notice will be given and those less serious, but still unsafe, which will be uprooted after 28 days.
Dunoon woman Christine Goffin came into the Observer’s office on Tuesday morning with a copy of a letter that she had sent to a council official, after the council took down a monumental bible on a plinth at her mother’s gravestone. She was outraged over this as it appeared that the innocuous monument, which stood approximately one foot high, had been forcibly removed from the two pillars it stood on; so much so that the pegs that were holding the memorial together were buckled.
Her letter was asking several questions including clarification over the 28 days notice period, details on who decided which gravestones were to come down, and by what means.
Councillor Bruce Marshall is also incensed over the situation. He said: “With regard to the laying flat of headstones in Cowal over the past four weeks, I have to say I am truly appalled. What has taken place has hit unsuspecting families, many of whom are still coming to terms with a bereavement, in the worst possible way, and I, as the local councillor for Kilmun and Sandbank wish to apologise for what has happened. “I feel particularly guilty as it was I who put a motion to the Area Committee, appealing for funding to replace stones which were laid flat six years ago. The motion went to the centre and council agreed that £100k of Capital Funding should be given to divide between the four areas to rectify previous work. It would appear that unbeknown to councillors this money has been used to take down hundreds of headstones.
“This action has caused unimaginable grief striking at the very heart of vulnerable emotions. Over the next four years I will work towards making our cemeteries a place of well-ordered tranquillity rather than scenes of devastation as I have witnessed at Kilmun and Sandbank.”


Parking chaos in Ardenslate
Residents in and around the Ardenslate area of Kirn are at the end of their tether due to the chaos being caused by construction workers at Dunoon Grammar School taking up most of the available parking spaces.
For months now anyone wishing to park their car outside their house, or at the local shop has been left frustrated.
The car park outside the shop is constantly full resulting in virtually no passing trade. Locals often have to park their cars streets away and walk some distance to get to their houses.
Cars and vans appear to be parked anywhere there is a space, some regardless of the fact that they are parking illegally on corners; the law states that you ‘must not park your vehicle or trailer on the road where it would endanger, inconvenience or obstruct pedestrians or other road users. For example, you are not permitted to park opposite or within 10 metres (32 feet) of a junction, except in an authorised parking space’.
Manohar Lal of the Ardenslate Store said: “I am losing about £100 per day through lost trade. Drivers cannot park next to the shop, so they are going elsewhere. I have lost a lot of my regulars, simply because they cannot get parked anywhere near the shop. A lot of them are elderly and have now started going to the supermarkets where they can park right outside.”
Mr Lal’s problems however, do not end solely with loss of trade. Delivery vehicles are unable to stop outside, resulting in crates of milk, bread, rolls etc being carried from streets away. Likewise if he returns with goods from the cash and carry.
It would not be as bad for Mr Lal if the contractors and workmen at the school used his shop; however as they have their own snack bar on site this does not happen.
The frustrated shopkeeper claims to have had no joy even after speaking to the police and the council: “I’ve taken it up with the police and councillors but have been told that nobody is parking illegally. I can’t understand this because there are vans and cars parked right on the edge of junctions and the backs of some vans hang several feet over the pavement. Surely this is not legal? It is certainly dangerous.”
Mr Hamilton, who has a house in Ardenslate Road, was one such driver who encountered a problem when trying to park. He had to turn, then reverse in the junction of Ardenslate Road and Sanda Gardens which proved difficult, before squeezing into a space nowhere near his house. The pensioner said: “It’s pandemonium, a piece of nonsense. You can never get parked anywhere near your house.” Mrs Hamilton added: “Because the cars are bumper-to-bumper it’s really hard to get your messages out of the boot. And there are often bits of rubbish strewn about; I’ve seen people who are sitting in their cars having lunch just throw wrappers out of their cars as if they don’t have a care in the world.”
Another local resident, who asked not to be named was equally angry. She said: “People can’t get parked. My daughter comes to visit me and she has to park in another street. I had reason to call the doctor out recently and he couldn’t get parked near my house either. The streets are dangerous now with all the parked cars all over the place.”
Whilst we were interviewing this lady we noticed a minor traffic jam when a car stopped to pick somebody up. Cars coming from both directions were held up for a couple of minutes as there was nowhere to pass, causing tempers to fray slightly.
A taxi driver waiting for the schools to come out at 3.30pm was also affected. He had to park precariously on the road as there was nowhere else to wait. He said: “This is horrendous. It’s really hazardous when picking up or dropping off passengers. It’s particularly bad when the schools are coming out.”
Some anguished residents have even taken to putting up signs or traffic cones to stop construction workers parking outside their houses.
The situation is made worse by the fact that Kirn Primary School is just round the corner from the main problem area and many of the youngsters are forced to take a dangerous walk round the cars and vans on their way home.
A spokesperson for the police said: “We have no record of any complaints over the last few weeks. If we did have, we would taken them seriously and investigated. If any offence was committed we would have spoken to the individuals concerned and, if necessary, reported the matter to the fiscal.”


The view from Holyrood
by Jim Mather msp
Last Saturday I woke up to the realisation that a majority of people in Argyll and Bute wanted me to represent the constituency in the Scottish Parliament.
That support demands action and I have started by setting out a strategy and engaging directly with local people, the Council, Argyll and the Islands Enterprise and the ferry operators.
Obviously, I am hoping that the SNP will form an administration and be able to take steps to improve ferry services and the local economy. However, I believe it is incumbent on me and all others to see May 3 as a new beginning, and start working together as never before.
I want to involve everyone in Argyll and Bute in this new era: starting by seeing the constituency as a single economic and social system that can produce better outcomes for local people.
Experience tells me that if we set a unifying goal such as “perpetually increasing the number of people living in Argyll who are in compelling, rewarding and sustainable work” and adopt a constancy of purpose we will exceed expectations and reverse years of relative decline.
With such a goal, we can run a session for the whole constituency (regardless of boundary inconsistency) and local sessions (including Cowal), where we can bring together local people to start this process of recovery.
Here’s how I want it to work.
I want to see Argyll and Bute Council, AIE, Alan Reid MP and me to unite all the key people from the public, private and voluntary sectors to help achieve the single unifying goal.
The objectives of that session would include identifying the many plus points that Argyll and Bute has that can attract future investment, new residents and more visitors. It would also include identifying the many issues that are blocking the full potential of the constituency, such as: ferry services, roads, the lack of affordable housing, the limited nature of local health services, development bottlenecks caused by Scottish Water and the relative scarcity of well-paid local jobs.
I know that these sessions will concentrate minds, and force organisations to challenge themselves and others to do more to achieve goals that are important to every man, woman and child in Argyll and Bute.
And there is another dividend, and that is when we make these connections I will be keen to see what can be done to make sure that more business is done in Argyll and Bute, and less money leaks out to elsewhere in the UK. For I am sure that local businesses could be doing more business with each other and more public sector contracts could be fulfilled by local firms.
And how will we know that we are succeeding?
Well for starters there should be considerably less of the blame game, with fewer people blaming others for failures. That should NOT be a result of happy-clappy complacency but a direct function of people and organisations being more inclined to do what is necessary to make Argyll and Bute and its constituent parts more attractive and more competitive.
As we progress, we should also see an increase in trust as more local people, local businesses and public sector agencies realise that others share the same objectives and are genuinely trying to achieve them.
For Dunoon and Cowal, people will want to see a steady improvement in local services, increased visitor numbers, new investment and lasting solutions to issues such as the ferries and the single status consultation process.
That is what I will be trying to achieve and I will be pressing this case when I meet the Council again on June 1 under the new energised leadership of local councillor, Dick Walsh.