Aberdeen TV designer Sinclair Brebner has been told he may face a £50,000 bill for staying in a court action almost certain to result in eviction from his flat - so it can be returned to the estate of the man who sold it to him 12 years ago for £136,000.
Mr Brebner's case is one of two apparent injustices of the Scottish conveyancing system highlighted by The Herald this year, the other being at Happy Valley Road in West Lothian. They have prompted the Law Society of Scotland to set up an inquiry into consumer protection for homebuyers under former Sheriff Principal Edward Bowen QC, who has now begun his investigation in Aberdeen.
Meanwhile Freedom of Information requests to the Registers of Scotland have revealed a litany of correspondence involving the Law Society, the Keeper of Registers, and Aberdeen professional firms involved in the 12-year process which may now result in the eviction of Mr Brebner and neighbour Colin Torr from their homes, now valued at £350,000, because their titles have never been registered.
In a Court of Session debate in 2011, now due for proof, bankruptcy trustee Ewen Alexander of accountants Johnston Carmichael was largely upheld in his claim to seize the flats for the estate of developer David George Pocock - who sold them to Messrs Brebner and Torr and pocketed the cash in 2002.
Mr Brebner, who has suffered severe ill-health and now faces financial ruin, says it was not until he came to sell the flat in 2007 that he first learned that his £1,485 conveyancing service might not deliver title to his property. He says: "The main theme throughout is the finger pointing elsewhere and the complete lack of professional responsibility or accountability."
His advisers Balfour & Manson say costs of £8,000 a day for six days could be awarded against him if the trustee's action succeeds as expected.
The saga began in August 2002 when the Court of Session, in a widely-reported case, closed down Aberdeen law firm Jamieson & Cradock and put it into the hands of the Law Society of Scotland amid evidence of "potential dishonesty" by partner Russell Taylor. The solicitor was soon afterwards suspended for six years for professional misconduct.
Within one month of being appointed, the Law Society's judicial factor Morna Grandison told the Keeper of Registers she had already found "an unusually large number of returned deeds and requisitions" suggesting irregularities. Grampian Police were later to ask the Keeper for copies of 16 "forged dispositions" created by Jamieson & Cradock. Among them were the dispositions for Mr Brebner's and Mr Torr's flats at 5 Queens Gardens when they had been sold previously, in December 2001, by property firm Skene Investments to Mr Pocock, whose solicitor was Russell Taylor.
Yet re-sales by Mr Pocock of the two flats in the city's smart west end went ahead to the unsuspecting buyers at the end of 2002.
It was not until June 2003 that the Keeper reported an "alteration" of a disposition for 3 Queens Gardens. Then in August Mrs Grandison reported that the dispositions for flats 3, 4 and 5 had all been "altered", to make it appear they had been previously bought not by Mr Pocock but by his company Howemoss Properties. Fake prices had been inserted. Stamp duty may have been avoided. One of the deeds was missing.
Mrs Grandison warned that Howemoss Properties, though not the legal owner, had already disposed of 4 and 5 Queens Gardens. "Regretfully this is going to cause a problem with the title for the new purchaser," she wrote to the Keeper. "I am unaware who these individuals are, however, perhaps your current records reflect this."
At the same time in August 2003 she also wrote to local law firm Hutcheon Rattray, the selling agent for Howemoss, warning of the defective process and inviting it to "take any action you deem appropriate to ensure that any subsequent purchaser obtains a clear title". The same month Brechin Tindall Oatts, solicitors for Howemoss's lender the Woolwich, asked the Keeper to allow altered dispositions to be registered with the consent of Skene Investments, still the legal owner, as a way of restoring clean title to the affected buyers.
Hutcheon Rattray first contacted the Keeper in April 2004, to be told that "replacement dispositions" were required and the Keeper hoped for "a speedy resolution of the problem" - but that only the Law Society could effect that.
Remarkably, Mr Brebner's purchasing solicitors Esslemont Cameron Gauld were first made aware of the crisis in a letter from the Keeper in January 2006, more than three years after the sale.
Then in December 2006, the Keeper informed purchasing solicitor Tom Davidson at Esslemont: "One firm of solicitors has obtained a fresh disposition directly from Skene Investments....to their client."
That client was Arlyn Cran, who obtained clear title to her flat at 4 Queens Gardens through a "corrective disposition" issued by Skene Investments. Ms Cran was Mr Pocock's partner and one of his co-defendants in the collapsed 2010 fraud trial of Mr Taylor and others.
In 2009, Mr Brebner's advisers Balfour & Manson told him they had asked solicitors for Professor Charles Skene, the Aberdeen businessman behind Skene Investments, whether he would similarly grant a new disposition in Mr Brebner's favour. He had declined.
Professor Skene's solicitors are Ledingham Chalmers, the firm also advising trustee Mr Alexander in his claim on the properties. It is also the firm which now employs Tom Davidson, following Ledingham's 2012 takeover of Esslemont Cameron Gauld.
Contacted by The Herald, Professor Skene responded that his firm had had "no involvement with the property since 2002" and directed inquiries to Mr Alexander. Ledingham Chalmers said it was a long-standing adviser to Skene Investments but there had been no conflict of interest. It said no complaint had ever been brought against Mr Davidson. Hutcheon Rattray directed inquiries to Mr Davidson. Mr Alexander says it is his "legal duty to act on behalf of the creditors in a bankruptcy", adding that for anyone in this position it was "clearly a matter between them and the advisers who acted for them at the time of purchase". Any such complaint, however, would now appear to be time-barred.
Mr Alexander's claim relies on a Law Lords judgement 10 years ago which awarded the house of Aberdeenshire couple the Graingers to the trustee of their bankrupt seller. Two of the five judges however dissented. Lord Hoffman questioned whether the outcome was "either desirable or a necessary consequence of the fundamental principles of Scots law".