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Activist can sue Trump golf resort for breach of privacy, court rules

Rohan Beyts says staff at president-elects golf course in Scotland took mobile phone footage of her without her consent

A court in Edinburgh has ruled that an environmental activist can sue Donald Trumps golf resort near Aberdeen for breach of privacy and compensation after she was apparently filmed without her consent on the course.

A lawyer acting for Rohan Beyts, a long-time critic of resorts impact on the environment and community, accused Trumps staff of breaching the Data Protection Act by taking mobile-phone footage of her in April as she allegedly urinated behind a dune on the course.

Rohan Beyts. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

The ruling raises the prospect of Trump facing a battle in the Scottish small claims court a few months into his first term as US president.

The Guardian revealed in August that Trump International Golf Course Scotland, which is wholly owned by Trump, had breached the UKs strict laws on data protection and privacy after it failed to register with the Information Commissioners Office, despite operating an extensive CCTV system and handling data on thousands of golfers, guests, staff and suppliers. The resort insisted this was due to a clerical error.

Beytss lawyer, Mike Dailly, said the result was fantastic. Although the defendant sought to have the case dismissed as incompetent, or transferred to the ordinary courts with unlimited expenses, or transferred to Aberdeen, all attempts to stop the case progressing were rejected by the sheriff, he said. So now there is a case to answer, and witnesses will have to give evidence on behalf of TIGC.

Beyts, 62, told the Guardian she was delighted with the result and looked forward to making her case.

The case arose from an incident last April when Beyts and a friend used a public footpath across the Trump course to reach the sand dunes and beach that border the golf links. Returning from their walk, the pair say there were challenged by resort staff and then photographed by a local newspaper photographer.

Three days Beyts was visited at home by two Police Scotland officers who formally charged her with public annoyance. A third officer in charge of the complaint told her that two members of Trumps staff and a guest on the course had filmed her on their mobile phones as she ducked out of sight.

Her prosecution raised fresh accusations from Trumps critics that his staff were deliberately persecuting opponents and closely monitoring their movements on the resort.

The claim was heard before Sheriff Gordon Liddle on Thursday morning, who swiftly dispatched the arguments made by Paul Motion, the solicitor advocate acting for the resort.

Dailly argued that the case was a straightforward claim for invasion of privacy, on the basis that the resort had admitted it was not registered with the ICO, and that being filmed without her consent had caused distress to Beyts, for which she was seeking 3,000.

Motion questioned whether a small claims court was competent to deal with such a case.

Liddle concluded, however, that while he was aware that he was dealing with ifs and buts, not black and white, nothing had persuaded him that the case was incompetent as a small claim.

When Motion argued that the case should be held in Aberdeen, closer to the golf course and relevant witnesses, Liddle quipped: Should I transfer it to Manhattan? before noting that there was no reason why Beyts could not sue a company in the place where it had a registered office, in this case, Edinburgh.

Liddle was staunch in his defence of the principle of the small claims court when Motion argued that the case should be transferred to the ordinary courts. The sheriff said: The effect of sending it to ordinary proceedings may well be [that Beyts] is discouraged from pursuing it because of the expense implications. The limit on expenses was an essential component of the small claims system, he said.

TIGCS said: Our position on Rohan Beyts claim remains unchanged and the matter is now in the hands of our lawyers.

The next hearing is set to begin on 3 April and last for three days.

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