Hillwood House: Ex-bailie tried for fraud over historic home deal
HE looked the epitome of middle class respectability in his trademark bowler hat and smart business suit.
Having served as a senior city bailie and president of the Edinburgh City Business Club, Craig Richards' credentials were equally impeccable.
But the fastidious businessman was to face the disgrace of being convicted of fraud – against the very city authorities he served – in a trial which rocked the Capital's establishment.
He would go on to quash his conviction on appeal, but never completely lived down the ignominy of the fraud trial.
It was a somewhat shady property deal to buy one of the city's most desirable properties, the baronial Hillwood House, on the western slopes of Corstorphine Hill, which landed him in court.
It remains today one of the most expensive family homes in Scotland, having sold for 3 million in 2006. In the late 1960s, however, it was a property developer's dream. Sitting in a state of considerable disrepair, it looked ripe for redevelopment.
The problem for the former bailie eyeing the opportunity, though, was his connections with the Edinburgh Corporation, which at the time owned the property.
He had recently stepped down from the local authority after 13 years, in circumstances which annoyed some of his former colleagues. His decision not to seek re-election, as a result of a split between the right-wing Progressives and Conservatives, meant he could expect no favours from some of his ex-colleagues.
But Richards, who was 61 at the time and living in Coates Place, had a plan.
He approached a city businessman, car dealer Walter Burns, to act on his behalf and make a bid for Hillwood House. The bid of 4000 was below the market value, but the council was told Mr Burns would invest a further 25,000 to 30,000 to restore the property to its Victorian glory. Mr Burns wanted Hillwood House as a family home, the council was assured.
"It was intimated that he was a keen gardener and that he would employ a gardener if necessary," one councillor, Peter Wilson, later recalled. "The picture that was painted at the council meeting was quite fantastic."
Mr Richards had been an enthusiastic advocate for the scheme, frequently visiting the council offices to lobby officials, although he stressed he was acting solely as Mr Burns' agent.
Once the deal was agreed, the council was told Mr Burns wanted the property transferred to his own company, Lumswain Ltd.
The unwitting compliance of council officials – who also agreed to apparently technical changes to other legal documents – opened the door to redevelopment.
It would not be long before plans were lodged with the council to convert Hillwood House into five separate apartments.
It was the diligence of two councillors, John Gray, a solicitor by trade, and Peter Wilson, which uncovered their former colleague's secret role in the affair.
While driving through Corstorphine one day Cllr Wilson noticed Elizabeth Richards, the former bailie's wife, driving into the grounds of the property.
His suspicions raised, he started to ask questions. After discovering Lumswain Ltd was in fact registered to Elizabeth Richards and a certain Craig Richards, Cllr Gray raised his concerns with the Crown Office.
The scandal was about to become public.
Mr Richards was summoned to the Central Police Station, where he was arrested, charged and thrown in the cells. The following morning he was charged with fraud at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and released on 100 bail.
At his trial, in October, 1970, he pleaded not guilty. Richards' business associate Walter Burns told the sheriff court he had never had any interest in living in Hillwood House. He had, he insisted, acted only on behalf of the ex-councillor. Despite the furore, Richards had moved in to Hillwood House, and was living there when his trial reached its dramatic conclusion.
At the end of a six-day hearing, a packed public gallery was there to hear him found guilty of fraud.
He was ordered to pay a 500 fine with an alternative of three months in prison. Immediately, he declared his intention to appeal.
After the case Mr Richards, who died last year at the age of 101, resigned as a director of the insurance brokers Stewart, Smith & Co (Scotland).
Within a year he had returned to court to clear his name, and the Court of Appeal ruled there had been insufficient evidence at his trial to convict him.
After the appeal hearing, Mr Richards declared: "I am delighted. It was what I expected because I knew it was an honourable transaction."
The scandal, though, refused to go away.
Edinburgh Corporation sued in an attempt to annul the sale, but later abandoned the attempt on lawyers' advice.
Former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, then a city councillor, was one of those to reluctantly accept the lawyers' advice. "I think that to continue the action in these circumstances would be little more than an expensive gesture," he told his council colleagues.
Former bailie Richards is believed to have disposed of the property in the mid-1970s, going on to promote other development plans.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 10 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: West