End of the road for free Forvik?

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IT IS the latest acrimonious twist in a long-running and bizarre diplomatic dispute which suggests that irrespective of his claims, no man is an island.

Last week it emerged that Stuart Hill, a pensioner from Surrey who is fighting to declare independence from the UK and establish his own sovereign state on a tiny speck of rock off Shetland, has been summoned to appear in court before a justice system he refuses to recognise.

Hill, 68, who has generated headlines around the world since raising the flag of independence on the remote outcrop of Forvik, has been arrested on a series of road traffic offences and is due to appear at Lerwick Sheriff Court later this month.

The Suffolk-born former metal worker was apprehended by officers in Lerwick, after parking his nine-year-old Mercedes van - which he describes as a "consular vehicle" - in one of the town's busiest streets. As part of his one-man battle against British officialdom, Hill has publicly refused to recognise the authority of state agencies, such as the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), over Shetland, and refuses to register his van.

Along with ongoing disputes over income and council tax, which have earned him penalties from HM Revenue & Customs, Hill has declared that his vehicles are not subject to UK statutes and therefore do not have to be registered with the DVLA or display a British tax disc.

Hill, the self-proclaimed First Minister of Forvik, has decorated his distinctive "consular vehicle" with a replica of the Forvik flag, which he designed, and a sign that proclaims The Sovereign State of Forvik. The 2002 car also sports the vehicle registration plate FREE ZE1 and its own unique Forvikian tax disc.

Hill's "consular vehicle" first took to the streets of Shetland after he announced the establishment of his independent state in 2008. He was arrested after police spotted the van in North Road, Lerwick, this month.

A spokeswoman for Northern Constabulary said: "I can confirm that a 68-year-old man has been charged in connection with a number of road traffic offences, including not holding tax or insurance. He will be appearing in court at the end of the month."

A spokesman for the DVLA said it could not comment on an individual case, but stressed that anyone wishing to have a vehicle on a British road must be in possession of a tax disc.

Hill told Scotand on Sunday that while he did not wish to "jeopardise" any legal action by discussing his arrest, he acknowledged that he was involved in several disputes with the UK authorities over sovereignty issues.

"It is all part of my campaign to make the UK and Scotland actually justify the basis of their authority in Shetland," he said.

The origins of Hill's argument date back 600 years to a deal struck in 1469 when King Charles of Denmark effectively pawned the archipelago to King James III of Scotland to raise money for his daughter's dowry.

According to Hill, the loan was never repaid and no legal agreement was ever signed, meaning that Shetland has at no time in the intervening centuries been part of Scotland or subject to UK jurisdiction.

Hill, a grandfather who once worked as a blacksmith in the Suffolk village of Claydon, first arrived on Shetland ten years ago after a solo attempt to circumnavigate Britain ended when his homemade boat capsized. He declared the territory of Forvik independent in the summer of 2008 and announced he would set up home on the two-and-a-half acre landmass, which is separating from the island of Papa Stour by a small channel.

Since then, Hill has flouted Shetland Island Council planning rules by erecting a makeshift house, although the structure has been battered by the elements and heavy wind blew out one of its skylight windows. He has also endeavoured to create a harbour for Forvik, bolting car tyres to the rock on the islet's eastern shores to assist visiting vessels.

Later this year, Hill hopes to have printed dedicated passports and driving licences for those who wish to become Forvik nationals. The absence of roads on Forvik, however, could make them effectively redundant. Future plans include minting Forvik's own currency, printing dedicated stamps and having oil companies carry out exploratory work on the seabed around the land. While many in Shetland mock the doughty pensioner, others empathise with his plight.

Nearly 200 people have contributed 20 apiece to become honorary citizens. Hill sells a range of branded items celebrating the state through his website, ranging from T-shirts and Forvik email addresses through to ‘FK' car stickers.

n mmclaughlin@scotlandonsunday.com

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