The 70s crooks who hid out on a Scottish island for 262 days
Among life usually found on Priest Island, part of the Summer Isles that lie in the mouth of Loch Broom, are pygmy shrews and a large colony of storm petrels.
But in 1975, two sharp-suited entrepreneurs were to arrive on Priest after their financial scams started to unravel.
Sidney “Jim” Miller, 56, and John Bellord, 48, are said to have lived on Priest Island for 262 days in three tents sheltered in a ruined bothy with Storm Petrel omelettes and brewed peat tea to become their diet.
Life on Priest Island couldn’t have been further away from the Champagne parties of their home town of Brighton or the cocktail hours enjoyed with their business associates on the motor racing sponsorship scene.
But, after being stripped of all comfort, their time of Priest had a fundamental effect on the pair.
Bellord, following his release from jail, said: “The island had reaffirmed our belief in the simple things and help to clear away a mass of valueless and extraneous paraphernalia to which, like so many, had cluttered our minds.”
A manhunt had been launched for Miller and Bellord in September 1975 after they left their Sussex home after a final party, with two black attache cases thought to be filled with cash, by helicopter.
Postcards were sent home after arriving in Calais but, far from slipping into a Continental break, they were in fact on a boat back to Dover where there friend, Geoff Green was waiting to take them to the west coast of Scotland in a Ford Cortina estate.
From Dundonnell, they crossed in a rib boat with a small dinghy of supplies in tow, the group meeting a harsh landing by being thrown into a rocky cove on Priest Island by the waves. Bellord’s briefcase full of money survived.
In Green’s account of the Miller and Bellord case, Paying for the Past, he said: “The island had proved a ferocious host, even on a late summer’s day.
He added: “The two castaways sorted out the stores and equipment, wet from dry, useful from useless.”
Three different tents made up their settlement, one a long-term store for good such as tinned food, bags of rice and rope. The second was full of stuff for immediate use, such as cooking gear, and the third for sleeping and shelter.
Green, in his account of their first day on Priest, added: “We humans are not good at seeing others stripped bare of dignity and possessions.
“Miller and Bellord were alone now with little left of their incredible lives. The island was not up for grabs. It could not be talked round and it didn’t need populating to survive. If the truth be known, it wanted us gone.”
The tree celebrated their safe arrival on Priest Island, now a RSPB reserve, with a cup of Oxo.
The island was selected due to the pair’s happy holidays in the Ullapool area and the influence of Frank Fraser Darling’s book Island Years.
Psychics were hired by at least one newspaper to find the duo, with speculation aired that they may have been hiding out with Lord Lucan.
Police and Interpol investigated sightings across Europe, Australia, South Africa and the UK - but Miller and Bellord were to last undetected on Priest Island for 10 months.
Some believe contacts in Ullapool had helped to conceal them during their time in the far north west.
Police finally caught up with them in the July 1976 following a tip-off from Green.
He was to be afforded leniency by the police in return for information that could lead to their creditors to get their money back.
The pair were found in a caravan in the grounds of a modest bed and breakfast, Roselea, in Ullapool on the mainland, where they had gone to get provisions.
Miller and Bellord were imprisoned for six years for their scam. They had set up a chain of more than 20 shops supposedly selling organs to churches but acquired instruments through bogus credit applications with HP companies and banks.
Because vicars couldn’t sign the credit agreements, they persuaded friends and employees to act as guarantors for the loans with many facing financial ruin as the scheme collapsed.
It was reported at the time that up to 400 people and 20 finance companies were involved.
Priest Island proved to be the perfect hideout for Miller and Bellord as they ran away from the fallout. For a time, at least.