A Scots peer yesterday was convicted of striking his former wife at an equestrian event in the Ayrshire countryside.

A sheriff decided, however, that because of the ``hitherto unblemished character'' of 49-year-old Lord Rowallan, he should be admonished on the charge of assault.

Ayr Sheriff Court was told that Lord Rowallan, known to his friends as Johnny, had been at the same equestrian event as his former wife, Ms Sandrew Corbett, at Muirmill, near Symington, on November 17, 1995, when his step-daughter Sophie Dinning was badly injured in a riding accident.

Minutes later, as he ran to be with his step-daughter he became involved in an incident with Ms Corbett and she was struck on the back of the head suffering whiplash injuries for which she required hospital treatment.

When the case was started in court last November, former stable girl Ms Corbett, 35, claimed her ex-husband was a ``bully'' and that he had hit her ``because there wasn't a man or anyone bigger around''.

The court was told the couple had not spoken for a year after she had been successful in a custody battle and Ms Corbett added: ``Our relationship was strained. I think he's a very foolish man but I don't feel bitter towards him.''

She described standing outside the equestrian centre with a group of friends and seeing her ex-husband walking behind her.

``The next thing I knew, I was being picked up by a friend. I had received a blow to the base of my skull. After that, a lot of people were shouting and someone was crying,'' added Ms Corbett.

She was treated at Crosshouse Hospital for whiplash injuries and released after treatment.

Lord Rowallan, who as John Corbett inherited the title on the death of his father in June 1993, claimed in court that the assault allegations were part of a revenge plot against him and that it had been raised out of spite and hatred.

Giving evidence in his defence, he said he had brushed past his ex-wife as he rushed to help his step-daughter, who was crushed by a horse during an equestrian event.

He agreed that there had been ``no love lost'' between the pair and indicated that he regretted their marriage.

Lord Rowallan added: ``But things began to settle down after she had had a pay-off from me. We then studiously avoided each other.''

Challenged by procurator-fiscal, Mr Joseph O'Donnell, over his use of the words ``pay off'' the peer responded: ``It is unfortunate that wives, whether they are chucked out or leave of their own accord, do very nicely under the British legal system.''

He admitted that there was intense rivalry between two ``horse sets'' in Ayrshire - himself, against Ms Corbett and former showjumping champion John Brown, with whom she lives in Symington - and claimed that vain attempts had been made to force him out of the British Horse Association.

Lord Rowallan spoke of the alleged attack and said: ``I pushed and barged past people to get to Sophie. I saw her (Ms Corbett) laughing as I came towards her, like a contemptuous laugh, and I treated it with the contempt it deserved and carried on. At no time did I clench my fist and wallop anybody. It was more of a hand flick.''

Earlier, the court was told that after the 6ft 2in peer struck 5ft 3in Ms Corbett, she collapsed and her riding hat flew off.

Lord Rowallan, however, insisted all he had been doing was rushing with a rug to comfort his step-daughter, who was trapped under a horse.

Her mother Claire, the present Lady Rowallan, told the court that her daughter was riding again after eight operations and that she was aiming for the top despite two broken hips and a leg broken in seven places.

Sheriff Peter Gillam found Lord Rowallan guilty and told him: ``I have regard to your hitherto unblemished character and the circumstances in which the assault took place, in which you were understandably distraught.

``Under the circumstances, you are admonished.''

As he rushed to his car after the hearing, Lord Rowallan, of Meikle Mosside, near Fenwick, said: ``Speak to my lawyer.''

Defence agent Paul Burns said: ``Careful consideration will be given to an appeal.''

Ms Corbett left the court with Mr Brown and would say only: ``You've heard it all in court, I'd rather not say anything else.''

Meanwhile, in the House of Lords last night, it was revealed that Lord Westwood, 53, who sits on the cross-benches, has been declared bankrupt.

An accountant who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, Lord Westwood, was educated at Fettes College, Edinburgh, the same school as Labour leader Tony Blair, and his father was a former president of the Football League, vice-president of the Football Association, and chairman of Newcastle United.