Highland Titles Ltd. is one of those websites that offers you a small plot of land as a souvenir purchase. Yesterday, on twitter, some merriment was had by challenging the claim that such plots conferred any ownership of the land. Highland Titles Ltd. claims that you will become a landowner in the absence of any recording of title in the Land Register. It backs up this assertion by reference to this legal advice from J&H Mitchell WS. But a series of lawyers on twitter challenged this. See this Storify by Malcolm Combe, his subsequent blog, and this lengthy legal explanation by @loveandgarbage.

So if these “plot-owners” don’t own the land, who does? The answer is Highland Titles Ltd. It owns two parcels of land – Keil Wood near Duror extending (originally) to 90.7ha (see map below) and Paitna Green Wood, near Invergarry (to west of A87 above Loch Loyne), extending to 75.1ha. Keil Wood was acquired in 2007 by a company called Lochaber Highland Estates (CI) Ltd. This company changed its name in February 2012 to Highland Titles Ltd. See here for a Scotsman Business video.

Keil Wood title here and plan here.

Paitna Green Wood title here and plan here.

Several half-acre plots have been sold at Keil Wood reducing the extent owned by Highland Titles Ltd. to approximately 75ha meaning that the company owns around 150ha of land which it is offering “for sale” in plots from 1 square foot to 1000 square feet in extent.

What makes this story that little bit more interesting is that Highland Titles Ltd. is a company registered in Alderney and, in a phone call today to the Greffier of the Court of Alderney, it was confirmed that Highland Titles is owned by Douglas Wilson and Helen McGregor as Trustees for The Highland Titles Charitable Trust for Scotland, a charity registered in Guernsey.

According to the five-year plan of Highland Titles Ltd., over 100,000 plots have been sold. Each plot costs anything from £29.99 to £499.99. The larger plots are all in Paitna Green (or BumbleBee Haven as Highland Titles calls it) which is little more than a high altitude sitka spruce plantation on the A87 from Invergarry over the hill to Cluanie (see below)

The revenue from over 100,000 plots is at least £2,999,000 and probably a good deal more. This revenue is paid into a company registered in Alderney but as no accounts are published, it is impossible to be sure. The sole share is held by Wilson and McGregor as Trustees for the Guernsey charity. Under the law of Guernsey, no charity is obliged to provide accounts for public inspection and it need only file accounts under certain circumstances.

Thus nobody knows if in fact the charity is in receipt of any funds whatsoever. As the sole shareholder it is not entitled to have any of the revenues of Highland Titles Ltd. transferred to it. These revenues may well be paid out by the Alderney company as management fees or any manner of other payments to third parties.

The 150ha owned by Highland Titles is enough to provide over 16 million square foot plots which, at £29,99 per plot is a potential gross revenue of over £479 million. And, because the “plot-owners” do not legally own their plots (their ownership is limited to a few bits of paper and perhaps a tartan teddy), these plots can, in theory be sold multiple times.

I find it odd that such an arrangement appears to be lawful in Scotland. Because the charity does not technically operate in Scotland, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has no role (see ruling from May 2014). And, because the company that owns the land is registered in Alderney, it pays no taxes to HMRC.

In December 2014, another company by the same name – Highland Titles Ltd. – was registered in Scotland. it is unclear what role this company plays.

Finally, the Directors of this Scottish company are Peter Bevis and Helen McGregor who live at Tulloch Farm, Spean Bridge.

Tulloch Farm is owned by Quexus Ltd., a company registered at Trident Chambers, PO Box 146, Road Town, Tortola, British VIrgin Islands.

Which leaves an obvious question. Where is all the money going?

24 Comments

  1. Great scam for anyone who thought it up and can get the money from anyone daft enough to buy .. but those ‘sales’ in Scotland must be taxed in the home-country … simples!

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  2. J & H Mitchell of Pitlochry are actually a very respectable and well established firm! The magic word to spot is “personal” (as opposed to “real”).

    The purchaser of one of these square feet (I’d have preferred a square metre on which I could, at least, sit, if I was careful and kept my elbows in, but, hey…) has a personal right against the schyster who sold it to him, a schlomiel, but has no real right against the Queen! For us of the chosen profession it isn’t that difficult, actually!

    And, hell, its only thirty quid!

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  3. Well it makes money for the offshore spivs and chancers and I believe the largest group of purchasers are American. Need more be said?

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  4. So given that:

    A. This company potentially can rake in nearly £500m selling land that technically its not really selling

    B. They do not pay a penny in tax and no actual revenue comes to Scotland apart from few local charity donations.

    C. Its hard to tell if they are doing anything illegal but definitely a bit naughty….

    Should the Scot Govt not be taking a very close look at this?

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  5. Happy days for Lewis. Wish them all the very best to them…

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  6. Tulloch Farm is a McGregor business itself – http://www.homeaway.co.uk/p6063322

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  7. Martin Richardson

    At least with the Laphraoig plot you get a bottle of malt as well.

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  8. Caveat Emptor

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  9. I love the way the video presents the enterprise as contributing to wider land ownership and conservation. It’s wonderfully cheeky in it’s cynicism.

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  10. I found it was the same on ‘Isay’, an island Donovan used to own, and who folk can now buy a square yard of, and get a certificate – for the American market. The island is mentioned in Boswell and Johnson, as Macleod offers it to Johnson as a gift. I recorded the islands downfall as par to a long poem style description of Skye.

    out of sight, beyond Beinn Bhreac
    are the little isles of Clett
    Mingay & Iosaigh

    Macleod offered Johnson Iosaigh
    for his own Hebridean island dream-home
    kitted out with cannon: the stated bargain
    being he’d stay 3 months every year
    on a writer’s residency

    Donald MacDonald sold the same Iosaigh
    to hand-me-down hurdy-gurdy-man Donovan,
    as a Celtic Avalon, sanctuary of free love
    & misty song-writing

    how high the gulls fly
    o’er Ilay
    how sad the farm lad
    deep in play
    felt like a grain
    on your sand

    (Donovan)

    Vashti Bunyan took her time reaching
    the far-flung commune by horse & caravan
    traveling 18 months, staying one night;
    Donovan’s dream lasted as long
    as a spell of Skye rain,
    so Bunyan headed her caravanseri
    on to Berneray

    the latest lairdie tried to sell-off Iosaigh
    in 25,000 one-foot sized bits, pitching peats
    for sale to romantic idiots

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  11. Aside from the obvious issues regarding tax and actual ownership, this whole scam is a complete joke as regards the titles. This is a prime example of “Scotland the Themepark” and only serves to extend the stupid side of the stereotypical tartan-and-shortbread-type image from souvenir shops to the land.

    Scotland has an actual history, which is just as real as any other country. Unfortunately, and partly because of our land ownership issues as well as our long-term lack of governance from within Scotland, we have become prey to imposters who are happy to milk whatever sterotypes they can to make a fast buck. And, as we see here, give nothing in return.

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  12. Goodness me. One of those situations that manages to be both comic and sinister.

    Am surprised – well , astonished – at the amount of money that seems to be involved.

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  13. From the Highland Titles web site

    http://www.highlandtitles.com/purchasing-souvenir-plots-of-land-in-scotland/

    ‘The Law in Scotland

    Unlike in England, Scotland still permits the sale of souvenir plots of land land under contract law without the need to register the sale. Although a right of ownership in land (in the sense of a right that is enforceable against third parties) can traditionally only be obtained by registration in the Land Register or by recording a deed in the Register of Sasines as appropriate, by using contract law these small plots of land can be sold without the expense of registration which would otherwise make this uneconomical.

    You cannot register your land, because this is a such a small plot; specifically it is defined as a “souvenir plot”. A souvenir plot is defined in the Land Registration (Scotland) Act 1979 as “a piece of land which, being of inconsiderable size or no practical utility, is unlikely to be wanted in isolation except for the sake of mere ownership or for sentimental reasons or commemorative purposes”

    The inability to register you as the beneficial owner of the land you have purchased does not affect your ownership of the land you have purchased.

    Please note that the fact that the Keeper is obliged to reject any registration of a souvenir plot does not necessarily mean that “ownership” can be obtained by some other means. It is therefore imperative that you purchase only through a reputable vendor such as Highland Titles. Indeed recent advice from the Law Society of Scotland gives this same advice on land ownership.’

    If the legal situation is ‘Unlike in England’ can something not be done by the Scottish govt to make it the same? It has not been unwilling to make other changes in Scottish law

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  14. Edwin Moore

    “The inability to register you as the beneficial owner of the land you have purchased does not affect your ownership of the land you have purchased.”

    I think you might want to ask a Scottish lawyer about that – particularly whether Scottish law recognises the concept of beneficial ownership.

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    • That proposition is not mine – as the quote marks indicate, those four paragraphs are from the apparently prospering Highland Titles Brownies. They will be getting away with Moidart next.

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  15. Its a bit of fun – WHO GIVES A SHIT ! If you can afford to do it – HAVE A LAUGH ! You know dam well your NOT going to get anything from it or build on it. Ofcourse its a scam !! If you cannotsee that from the binging go back to the USA , Canada, Australia N Z etc Ask those grand old people back home to tell you more stories from tne “homeland”. The Irish are bloody good at it – they can tell you what you want to hear !!!

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  16. Who gives a shit are the people to whom the heritage of Clan Donald belongs. These clowns use ‘Glencoe’ because of the recognition the massacre has. They’re ten miles away. There is no connection to Glencoe. Ballachulish and Appin are nearer, so why not Appin Estates? It’s simply trading on someone else’s tragedy.

    Who gives a shit are those who get traduced by these clowns. Those who are implied as crooked.

    Who gives a shit are companies who are shut down by false allegations.

    Who gives a shit are small businesses who are trying to make an honest living and whose businesses are affected by reputational damage.

    Who gives a shit are people who can see beyond their nose, who have a dare for the land, culture, and heritage they live in.

    If you do not give a shit about those things, you’re part of the problem. Better advise your parents that when they’re over 70 and suffering Parkinsons, or advise your siblings that when theyhave strokes in their early thirties, you’ll not be giving a shit about them.

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  17. This story highlights all that is wrong with land ownership of large estates in Scotland. Companies / trusts / persons who have no connection with Scotland can buy and sell large amounts of land with no benefit to the Scottish people or government. These owners who have no affinity to the land they own use it as a cash cow by investing in inappropiate developement( eg hugh wind turbine farms)with no benefit or consideration to the local people as they are unlikely to see or meet them in the local shop /bar. They are only interested in the capital growth of their estate so that when they sell they can see high profits which will go to some offshore tax haven with minimal tax , none going to Scotland.I would go futher than the present Land reform proposals and say that no non domiciled company/ trust / persons can own large estates in Scotland .

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  18. If you bought one of those plots perhaps I can interest you in one of these http://www.moonestates.com/ ???

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  19. The plots shown on the map are a lot bigger than a square foot. They look more like quarter acres. Could that still be a “souvenir”?
    I’ve walked about up there. They have put in roads and, I think, a toilet block and created small lochans and I saw benches dotted about. Mind you with a half billion in potential income, they can afford wee bit of ‘environmental” work.

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