Private eye clinches case after New Town neighbours go to war

ALL is fair in love and war, even in the genteel world of Edinburgh's New Town, it seems, where unseemly spats among neighbours are definitely not de rigueur.

So when lawyer Siggi Bennett and his neighbour in fashionable Royal Circus fell out spectacularly over late-night parties, Mr Bennett had no qualms about calling in the cavalry or, in this instance, a private investigator.

Businessman Michael Gordon had disputed he was flouting planning regulations by using his luxury, three-storey townhouse at No 1 more as a venue for celebrity parties than as a home. But when a private investigator posed as a potential customer who wanted

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to hire the house for a party at 750 a day, he made a great deal of its attractions.

Now the sales pitch has come back to haunt Mr Gordon, as Mr Bennett, of No 3, used it to win the latest round in a long-running and expensive legal battle.

Mr Bennett, an advocate and nephew of the late television presenter, broadcaster and journalist Magnus Magnusson, declined to comment.

But Mr Gordon, who admitted the verdict was "no surprise", has vowed to mount another appeal, and claims he is being victimised by his neighbour.

He told The Scotsman: "We are running a high-quality guesthouse for the more discerning customer. It's available for hire for parties, but there are a whole list of strict conditions including a ban on loud music.

"It's been unfairly labelled as a party house and we've been victimised by one neighbour, but we're looking forward to another inquiry."

Among those who have attended parties at No 1 over the years are author JK Rowling, TV presenter Kirsty Wark, actress Samantha Morton and comedian David Walliams.

City of Edinburgh Council served a notice three years ago on Mr Gordon and his wife, Susan, stating that, without planning permission, they had changed the use of the property from dwelling house to entertainment venue, and such use should stop. The Gordons contested the claim, and a public inquiry was held at an estimated cost of 100,000. The reporter, David Russell, accepted evidence from Mr Gordon that there had been only four occasions when the premises was used as an entertainment venue separate from its use as a house, two of which occurred during the 2003 Edinburgh International Festival.

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However, the reporter's decision was challenged by Mr Bennett at the Court of Session, and the three judges, Lords Kingarth, Eassie and Marnoch, overturned the verdict yesterday.

Lord Kingarth referred to a transcript of a conversation on 11 December, 2003, between Mr Gordon and an agent hired by Mr Bennett who had posed as someone seeking to organise a party.

"We have read this transcript with some care and it is clear that a number of significant inferences could readily be drawn," said Lord Kingarth.

"The most obvious is that (Mr and Mrs Gordon] no longer used the property as their home. It was available for hire as an entertainment venue."


PLANNING experts believe Mr Gordon is unlikely to win his case, in the wake of the ruling.

David Bell, director of Jones Lang LaSalle, said: "The decision endorses the council's position and its decision that there is no lawful use of the property for entertainment purposes.

"It does happen occasionally that the Court of Session takes issue with a reporter's decision, but it is rare. If there is a further appeal, it is likely the reporter will take full note of the views expressed by the court. Therefore, the prospects of securing lawful use of the property as an entertainment venue look low."