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Food tycoon wins legal fight against grouse moor owners

A FROZEN food tycoon who sued a shooting estate's trustees, ­claiming he was misled over the numbers of birds he could shoot, will receive compensation after the Supreme Court ruled in his favour.

Alistair Erskine claimed that despite spending £530,000 to improve a grouse moor above the banks of the River Spey, five years of hard shooting yielded just 180 brace, or 360 birds - a far cry from the 2000 birds he had anticipated taking each year.

Despite previously losing in two lower courts, Mr Erskine took his £1 million damages claim against the landowners, the trustees of Viscount Reidhaven's trust - including the Right Honourable Ian Derek Francis Ogilvie-Grant, 13th Earl of Seafield - to the Supreme Court.

Five judges at the Supreme Court said that he was due compensation. The Court of Session will now determine the damages payable by the owners of the moor at Castle Grant, near Grantown-on-Spey.

Mr Erskine, who brought the case in the name of Cramaso LLP, the partnership he established with his wife for the project, said: "It is pleasing that the highest court in the land has recognised that Cramaso was owed a duty of care in the context of this negligent misrepresentation."

Mr Erskine, who made his fortune selling frozen seafood and smoked salmon, agreed in 2007 to lease the 11,000-acre grouse moor, believing it then to be one of the most productive Scottish moors.

It required he invest in the land to increase the number of birds which he could then shoot before returning it back to its owners.

The court was previously told that although it had yielded considerable bags in the 1970s, like many others in Scotland the number of grouse had gone into steep decline and by the 1990s a recovery programme was in place.

The original hearing was told when Mr Erskine negotiated the lease he had relied on grouse figures produced by Sandy Lewis, a chartered accountant and chief executive of the trust. Encouraged by them, Mr Erskine took on the 15-year lease at £25,000 a year.

Cramaso claimed details about the grouse counts were carried out on parts of the moor which were considered to be the most heavily populated. As a result, Cramaso said, the estimated grouse population was well in excess of the actual population.

Mr Erskine's plans to improve the moor - a condition of the lease - and build up a first-class grouse moor were put back by three to four years.

Nevertheless, capital expenditure in the lease's early years involved rebuilding the butt lines, repairing and upgrading the moorland road system, providing fencing for a sheep flock on the moor, repairing and upgrading the lunch huts, game larder and equipment storage area on the moor, and completing the repair and refurbishment of the cottages and farm buildings.

Mr Erskine subsequently sought a reduction of the lease and damages, claiming he had been misled over the productivity of the shoot.

A judge in the Court of Session in Edinburgh found that, while there had been a material misrepresentation, the duty of care to provide accurate information did not apply to Mr Erskine's company Cramaso, who took on the lease and raised the court action.

That judgment has now been overturned by the Supreme Court.

A spokesman for Reidhaven trustees said of the latest development: "Trustees are disappointed that the Supreme Court did not uphold all the previous judgements of the Court of Session. We will be deliberating the implications of the decision and cannot comment further at this stage.

The Reidhaven Estate, along with the Seafield and Ogilvie-Grant Estates, forms part of the 54,000 Strathspey Estate within the Cairngorm National Park. Castle Grant, which was sold in 1983, was the family seat.

It was occupied by Jacobite forces in 1747 when the then laird was blocking the path of Bonnie Prince Charlie's army.

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