Two former housekeepers for former Rangers owner Craig Whyte have been convicted of stealing thousands of pounds of items from his Highland castle.
Jane Hagan, 51, and her husband Terence Horan, 54, had both denied taking the items from Castle Grant, near Grantown on Spey.
After being found guilty following a five-day trial at Inverness Sheriff Court, they were each fined £1,000.
But the sheriff criticised some of Mr Whyte’s evidence, which he said included “matters which were perhaps open to question”.
The court heard the couple took a range of goods from the castle, including a quad bike, expensive jewellery, a clay pigeon trap, furniture, and stored them in a container and a barn.
During the trial, Mr Whyte read out a letter containing an alleged confession by Hagan and Horan, as well as potentially embarrassing revelations about himself.
Sheriff Jamie Gilchrist questioned the circumstances in which Mr Whyte and his girlfriend recovered the letter from the couple’s computer. He said: “It would be difficult to be satisfied the letter had not been altered.”
Mr Whyte’s estranged wife Kim and her friend Linda Cameron told the court they had heard Hagan and Horan saying they planned to take items of high value from Castle Grant because they had not been paid.
The sheriff said this supported Mr Whyte’s testimony that he had not given the pair an instruction to store items on his behalf in a container they rented to prevent sheriff’s officers or his wife from seizing them.
Sheriff Gilchrist said: “Linda Cameron in particular did not come across as the sort of person to collude with both sides in an acrimonious marriage break-up in a conspiracy to falsely accuse Hagan and Horan of theft.
“Concerns the couple had regarding Craig Whyte’s unreliability in paying bills and concerns they had about payment of salaries and their future generally provide a clear motive to them to remove property.”
Fining them, the sheriff said he had some sympathy for the couple. He told them: “I recognise the circumstances in which these events took place and they provide an explanation and some mitigation. I also recognise the consequences a conviction of dishonesty will have on people in your line of work.”
The couple had claimed their salaries were paid late and that Mr Whyte had failed to pay tax and national insurance or provide them with statutory contracts and payslips.
Hagan and Horan looked shocked as they were convicted and shook their heads in disbelief as they were sentenced.
Speaking after the verdict, Horan said: “We are clearly disappointed. It was not what we wanted nor expected. We need to take further advice about what to do next.”
The couple, who both now live and work in the south of England, took to the witness box to tell what life was like working for millionaire Mr Whyte.
The sheriff heard the couple had to undertake anti-terrorist training from police in the aftermath of the Rangers takeover.
Hagan and Horan also had to deal with calls from Mr Whyte’s bank about repossession of the castle because of non-payment of mortgage debts.
Mr Whyte said that he had been told by police the couple had a history of dishonesty with a previous employer.
He also accused them of hatching a plot to poison him and that he had been told by police that the couple had a history of dishonesty with previous employer. However two detectives assigned to investigate the theft denied any of this had ever been said. Whyte also told the trial his girlfriend found the letter in a kitchen, but then appeared to change that version by claiming it was located on the computer and she had printed it out.
Hagan and Horan were on holiday in Hawaii at the time where they received an email from Whyte sacking them for gross misconduct.
But a forensic computer expert, Jim Borwick from Edinburgh said Hagan’s computer was not secure and had been extensively accessed while they were on vacation, including a spreadsheet containing their passwords and the damaging letter. He added: “I can’t say that the letter was definitely altered, but it was possible it could have been.”