Shetland storms and UK taxes prove no man is an island

HIS plan to declare independence from the UK and create his own state on a tiny island off Shetland may sound like the plot of a quaint Ealing comedy.

But Stuart Hill's quest to turn the windswept crag of Forewick Holm into the autonomous Crown Dependency of Forvik has been dealt serious blows by two timeless adversaries: mother nature and the taxman.

The elements have not been kind to the breakaway outpost, with storms destroying much of the fledgling state's infrastructure. Similarly, HM Revenue and Customs are less than amused by Hill's refusal to pay taxes to a "foreign" government and are threatening to arrest his earnings and declare him bankrupt unless he pays up.

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The 65-year-old Suffolk-born eccentric basked in international media attention last year when he raised the flag of independence on Forvik, two and a half acres of rock and grass whose only other inhabitants appeared to be worms and woodlice.

As self-proclaimed steward of the territory, separated from the neighbouring island of Papa Stour by a small channel, he declared independence from both Britain and the EU. The mariner, labelled "Captain Calamity" because of his frequent nautical blunders, also unveiled plans to mint his own currency, print his own stamps and issue Forvik citizenship and passports.

Within a week the official Forvik website received more than 50,000 hits and he received around 1,000 e-mails of support, including one from a US woman who volunteered her services as the island's princess and first lady.

Hill colonised the uninhabited rock by raising a specially designed Forvik flag, pitching a two-man tent, erecting a shed and starting work on the main civic building; a 25sq metre dwelling built with polythene sheets, hardboard and turf, anchored by a fishing net.

But the islander revealed that Forvik's first winter has caused major setbacks to his dream. "The first serious storm of the winter was accompanied by 115mph winds. The flagpole has blown down, the tool shed has gone, the windbreak for the tent is partly blown down, but thankfully the house is still okay," Hill said.

Continuing high winds prevented Hill from repairing the damage immediately. "I'm unable to get on the island. All I can do is watch from either the mainland or Papa Stour."

The former metal worker, who moved to Shetland seven years ago, has made a point of publicly declaring his refusal to pay income tax or VAT due from his boating firm Real Aerofoil Wing Sails Ltd.

His case rests on a deal struck in 1469 when King Charles of Denmark effectively pawned Shetland to Scotland's King James III to raise money for his daughter's dowry. According to Hill, as the loan was never repaid and no other legal agreement was signed, Shetland was never officially part of Scotland and therefore is not subject to UK jurisdiction.

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A letter sent to the bearded tax rebel from HM Revenue and Customs, and posted defiantly on Hill's website, claims that he owes them the sum of 1,697.79 in unpaid VAT. It states: "You have not paid the above amount and I have applied to the Sheriff Court for a Summary Warrant. You can avoid this action by paying in full now."

When he failed to do so, a sheriff officer personally issued Hill with an official "Charge for Payment of Money".

Hill again refused, and challenged them to refuse his belongings from Forvik, stating in his correspondence: "I am withholding this tax because neither your department, nor the sheriff's court has any authority in Shetland. I am prepared to defend this position to the highest court in the land."

HM Revenue and Customs has issued Hill with two penalty notices totalling 202 for failing to return his self-assessment tax returns and is promising further action. A spokesman said: "People cannot just declare they are a different country and refuse to pay taxation. Everyone living in the UK has to comply with the laws of the land."