CROFTERS have accused the organisation which oversees the system of "overbearing behaviour" and called for an inquiry to be launched into the body.

The row developed after 13 crofters were controversially removed from their positions on two voluntary groups set up under the Crofting Commission to manage common grazings.

One of the grazings committees, in Mangersta on the Outer Hebrides, has now accused the commission of "appalling" behaviour while a legal expert said there was a "worrying trend concerning alleged abuse of power" within the organisation.

Solicitor Brian Inkster, an authority on crofting law, said it was not the first time he had heard actions taken by the Crofting Commission referred to as being “dictatorial, vindictive and unjustified”.

Grazing committees are set up under the commission to manage the common grazings, the areas of land shared by local crofters traditionally for their sheep or cattle. Committee members are elected by the other crofters, and are not paid.

However, all eight crofters on Upper Coll grazings committee on the island of Lewis have been removed. It is claimed it follows several of them lodging complaints against Colin Kennedy, the convenor of the Crofting Commission.

A second Lewis grazings committee, Mangersta on the west side of the island, has now revealed that its five members were also dismissed by the commission before Christmas. They say it is because they failed to make payments to a long-term absentee tenant.

Members of the Upper Coll committee had accused Mr Kennedy, a crofter from the island of Coll, of unfair and biased conduct when he chaired a meeting in the district held to hear issues raised by two other local crofters against the committee.

It was found that the Upper Coll committee had not distributed income relating to croft house sites to individual crofters, as required by the terms of the crofting legislation, and instead banked the money in the township fund.

The committee was then given several months to get its accounts audited. Local accountants were hired, but what was produced was still found wanting by the commission, which subsequently removed all the members from the committee.

The dispute in Mangersta, a community of 13 crofts, is also over the distribution of money.

In a statement the Mangersta committee accused the commission of “overbearing and inconsistent behaviour” and warned that “if the right of individual tenants to receive personal shares of public money intended for village improvements and participation in agri-environmental schemes is upheld, the entire system of crofting agriculture will face collapse".

It added: “We have observed with great interest events in Upper Coll and see significant parallels with our own experience. The role of the Crofting Commission has been appalling and the sooner there is an inquiry into its entire operations, the better.”

Mr Inkster said: "This highlights a worrying trend concerning alleged abuse of power within the Crofting Commission."

Rhoda Grant, Labour’s Holyrood candidate in the Western Isles, has written to the commission’s chief executive, Catriona MacLean, saying the body has gained an "unwelcome reputation for its high-handed, overbearing attitude towards good people doing their best to hold crofting together".

But the Crofters Commission said that action in Upper Coll followed an approach from a number of local shareholders to investigate the way the committee was conducting its business.

A spokeswoman said. “The commission will investigate when requests of this nature are brought to us by shareholders.”

She said that as the case was live she could not comment further, but the commission would be contacting shareholders.

The Crofting Commission took over from the old Crofters Commission in April 2012, with six of its nine commissioners directly elected for the first time.

One of the organisation's main aims is to tackle absenteeism and promote croft occupancy. It requires crofters to live within 20 miles of crofts or be deemed absentees.