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A couple of bits of news.

In April 2015, Hackney Council brought in a Public Spaces Protection Order (under Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) which, amongst other things criminalised rough sleeping in some parts of the borough. Allegedly this was part of a plan “to tackle persistent anti-social behaviour that is concentrated in specific areas and having an adverse effect on the lives of residents and visitors to the area” and ‘enforcement would be a last resort’. Oxford Council had said much the same when it introduced a similar PSPO, only to have to retract it, after a public outcry and petition. And unsurprisingly, much the same happened with Hackney’s badly conceived plan. After a lot of bad publicity, possible legal action, and a public petition with over 70,000 signatures, Hackney deleted the ‘rough sleeping’ part of the PSPO, leaving

“(i) consuming alcohol (ii) begging (iv) loitering (v) urinating or defecating (vi) dogs being off leads (vii) misuse of public toilets”

as criminal offences in the designated areas.

Given that they kept saying that the rough sleeping part was only in conjunction with and as a part of the other activities banned, it was clearly an unnecessary inclusion in any event. And with fines between £100 to £1000, would have been deeply damaging to those having to sleep rough. A retrograde step from hackney and thankfully reversed.

And then there are our dear friends, the ‘laird-floggers’ Highland Titles, whose approach to being told that they were wrong about Scottish land law made up in energetic abuse for what it lacked in accuracy and truthfulness.  The Daily Record, in Scotland ran an article about Highland Titles (sadly all that is left is this). Highland Titles took exception to it and complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that the Daily Record had, amongst other things, misrepresented the information that Highland Titles gave to its clients about the status of their ‘ownership’  (As the headline put it, “Highland laird wannabes fooled into thinking they have bought Scottish land in multi-million-pound global scheme”).

Alas for Highland Titles, it was made clear to IPSO that their website, including the parts that they were relying on in their complaint, had been edited after the Daily Record article.

The newspaper provided screenshots which showed that changes had been made to Highland Titles’ website since the complainant had brought his complaint. These changes included the amendment of the phrase “buy land in Scotland” to “buy a souvenir plot in Scotland” and the amendment of “enjoy the full land ownership experience” to “enjoy the landowner experience”. The newspaper also provided screenshots of the questions and answers page of the website, which showed that customers were being told that “you are still the owner of your plot in any situation”, “ownership is perpetual”, and that customers could resell their land in future. The newspaper cited these as evidence that customers were being “fooled” into believing that they actually acquired full legal title in the land.

And the result of the complaint? Well it did not go well for Highland Titles. At all.

The Committee understood the complainant’s concern about the use of the claim “Highland laird wannabes [have been] fooled into thinking they have bought Scottish land in multi-million-pound global scheme.” The article had provided the basis for the claim, which included that customers would understand that they had “bought a plot of land” in the sense that this is ordinarily understood, when in fact title in the land had not passed to the customer, and it was not possible for a customer to register the sale at the Land Registry. The newspaper had contacted Highland Titles prior to publication, and had also included in the article the company’s position that “our customers obtain a personal right to the land, we make our sales on the advice of our Scottish solicitors and the Advertising Standards Authority are satisfied that we make that sufficiently clear on our website.” The Committee noted that the questions and answers page of the company’s website demonstrated that some customers had been confused about the nature of the land transaction and that the company had revised some of the pages of its website to make the position clearer following publication of the article. In all the circumstances, the Committee considered that the central claim of the article represented the newspaper’s characterisation of some customers’ confusion arising from the lack of clarity that had previously been provided by the company as to precisely what interest their customers acquired in the land. This interpretation did not raise a breach of Clause 1.

So, IPSO found that it was accurate to say that Highland Titles had fooled Laird wannabes into thinking that they had bought Scottish land.

At the time of writing, Highland Titles have not yet apologised to @loveandgarbage, the Scottish land lawyer who they had described as “ill informed and belligerent” for pointing out that this was indeed the case under Scottish land law and that Highland Titles were, well, not being accurate about ownership of land.

(PS. I remain blocked by @highland_titles on twitter, after a brief moment of unblocking).

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.



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