Ferry QC is cleared on technicality

A SCOTTISH QC charged with perjury in Tonga following a royal commission into the nation's worst maritime disaster had his perjury trial dismissed on a technicality.

• Described by peer as a 'rust bucket', the Princess Ashika sank and claimed the lives of 74 people, including a Scot Picture: AFP

Lord Ramsay Dalgety, QC, a former director of Scottish Opera, appeared in court yesterday over claims he gave false evidence during the commission into the sinking of the MV Princess Ashika ferry which sank in August 2009 claiming 74 lives - mostly women and children.

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Among those who drowned was Daniel MacMillan, 48, from Islay.

Lord Dalgety, 64, a former Conservative councillor with Edinburgh District Council, moved to Tonga in 1991 and was made Lord Dalgety of Sikotilani Tonga (Lord Dalgety of Scotland) in 2008 by King George Tupou V. He was also appointed chairman of the judicial committee of the Privy Council. However, yesterday Lord Dalgety had his trial dismissed after it emerged indictments relating to the case had not been properly stamped.

Lord Dalgety, secretary of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia which operated the government-owned ferry, had been arrested, charged with perjury and put under house arrest for 24 hours in February. A news blackout was imposed on reporting the case.

Tonga's Royal Commission of Inquiry had strongly criticised Lord Dalgety, a specialist in admiralty law, for failing to order an independent survey before the ferry was purchased - he later described it as a "rust bucket".

He was described by the inquiry as "unfit to hold such an important position" and accused of being "evasive" when giving evidence.

The report criticised Lord Dalgety's lack of competence in admiralty law, in which he said he was a specialist. It described as "disturbing" the fact that he did not have an up-to-date copy of the shipping act and admitted he had not "checked it for years".

The report stated: "He considered that he was very experienced in admiralty law and company law matters. As company secretary, he understood that when performing his duties, he was to exercise reasonable care, diligence and skill.

"He was aware that there were numerous offences if owners or operators failed to protect the safety of life at sea."

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The investigators said that Lord Dalgety's response and justification for failing to look at the shipping act "were nothing short of completely embarrassing".

However, yesterday morning Justice Robert Shuster quashed the perjury charges at the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court.

Justice Shuster ruled an indictment related to the case had not been signed and dated by the prosecutor and ruled the document was invalid.Aminiasi Kefu, the solicitor general, argued against the technicality saying it was never a practice in Tonga for indictments to be signed and dated as there was no prescribed rule to do so.

He also said that a 12-day-old direction from the chief justice requiring the signing of indictments did not apply to the Dalgety indictment which was filed in April.

He said the document was valid under Tongan law and that the matter should be deferred and submitted to the Tonga Court of Appeal to make a final decision.