Dec 1 2011 by Chris Clements, Hamilton Advertiser
IT’S a court battle that involves a foreign national living in a Victorian mansion, a Lanarkshire accountant, an ancient law and a decade-long bankruptcy fight started by a dispute over a £230 bill.
There was a twist in one of the most unusual cases in recent legal history after a fresh hearing was held at Hamilton Civil Court this week.
Belgian national Marian Van Overwaele has applied for an action of lawburrows against former Hamilton accountant and insolvency practitioner Cameron Russell, who lives in Sandford near Strathaven.
The complicated civil action – founded in the Lawburrows Act of 1429 and revised throughout the ages – sees the pursuer seek to obtain from the defender a cautionary sum which is then held by the court.
If granted, the pursuer names a number of conditions protecting him or her against violence or intimidation. If the defender is found to have broken the conditions, he forfeits the caution money given to the court.
The rarely-used action is not considered a prelude to a criminal case.
Mrs Van Overwaele’s case against Mr Russell is only the latest move in a long-running bankruptcy dispute between the pair which started with an alleged unpaid factor’s bill for £230 in 1997.
The fee – which Mrs Van Overwaele claims had nothing to do with her – related to a bridal shop she owned near Helensburgh.
After her failure to pay the bill and the subsequent spiralling legal costs, Mrs Van Overwaele was sequestrated (which means made legally bankrupt) in 2000.
At that time, the courts placed Mr Russell in charge of her fortune. It included the £3m mansion, Knockderry Castle, in Helensburgh, in which she lives with her brother and his family.
Since then the Belgian family have been fighting the court ruling, which has escalated into what Mrs Van Overwaele claims to be a “campaign of unlawful intimidation”.
The case has resulted in significant costs, well into a six-figure sum, for both sides.
In a lengthy writ submitted to Hamilton Civil Court, the Belgian claims that she was “unlawfully sequestrated” and that Russell “unlawfully appointed himself a trustee” of her estate in 2000.
The lawburrows action alleges that Mr Russell and his representatives broke into her brother’s shop and stole stock, broke into her home and stole thousands of pounds worth of jewellery and that he incited sheriff’s officers to enter Knockderry Castle without legal consent and cause considerable damage.
She also alleges that Mr Russell has assaulted her, as well as incited others to do so.
Mrs Van Overwaele is seeking to obtain a cautionary sum of £100,000 from Mr Russell to prevent further menace.
The accountant vigorously denies the allegations.
At court this week, Mrs Van Overwaele lodged a motion to adjourn a proof hearing.
Representing herself, she told Sheriff David Bicket that an essential witness was ill and that she received 18 documents “at the last minute” last Friday.
She asked for more time to investigate whether the papers – relating to her simultaneous bankruptcy battle – have relevance to her lawburrows case.
Russell’s advocate Donald Davidson opposed the motion, stating that his client had “had the matter hanging over him for long enough”.
Mr Davidson added: “These are serious allegations, including assault and the destruction of property that he denies and would like to be adjudicated on as soon as possible.
“Not only is he offended by these allegations but he is also affronted.
“It is causing him sleepless nights and much stress, and he would like to have the matter put to bed once and for all.”
Sheriff Bicket granted the motion to adjourn, but continued proceedings until December 7 in order to find a suitable date.
Outside court, Mrs Van Overwaele said that the defender had gone “above and beyond the duty” of an insolvency practitioner.
Mr Russell would not comment.